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A Times Editorial

GOP plays politics with party audit

The Republican Party of Florida has finally given an accounting of what happened under former chairman Jim Greer, nine months after he was ousted and three months after he was indicted. But the party's use of the embarrassing report to launch new attacks on Gov. Charlie Crist and his independent bid for U.S. Senate — while down playing other irregularities — suggests a motive other than full accountability from a party that preaches fiscal prudence. An ongoing federal investigation is likely the public's only hope of ever learning the full picture of who benefitted from this corruption of Florida politics.

For sure, the largesse Greer appears to have enjoyed at the expense of RPOF donors is shocking, ranging from extensive out-of-state travel to more than $5,600 tied to his son's baptism. The investigation conducted by two Atlanta lawyers of Alston & Bird, found nearly $382,000 in expenses from 2007-2009 that didn't appear related to party business. At least $270,000 was directly tied to Greer, including $199,000 he funneled to Victory Strategies, his consulting firm.

The investigation suggests Crist — who handpicked Greer for the party post — also benefitted. When his wife Carole arrived early for a fundraising trip in New York City, the party paid for the room. The report indicates Greer charged $13,435 to the party during a vacation with the Crist family at Disney World.

But also in the report is this telling statement: "We note, however, that the increased level of spending during Greer's tenure was not inconspicuous to the leadership of the RPOF." And allies of Crist, including New Port Richey Sen. Mike Fasano, were quick to call foul on the report because it was limited only to Greer's tenure and didn't mention that it was common practice for years for the party to pick up spouses' expenses.

Underplayed by the party is the fact that former House Speaker Marco Rubio, now facing Crist in the Senate race, ultimately repaid the party $2,417 for expenses, but only after the investigation was undertaken. Also reimbursing the party for lesser amounts were House Speaker designate Dean Cannon of Orlando and Senate President Jeff Atwater of North Palm Beach, a candidate for chief financial officer. And the report notes thousands in expenses made by former House Speaker Ray Sansom of Destin for things like electronics, sporting goods and even a People magazine subscription.

Republican leaders, in limiting the investigation to only Greer's tenure, apparently hope to convince the public that this culture of entitlement began and ended with him. But that's far from convincing. For years rumors have circulated in Tallahassee that the state's leading party allowed its leaders to live large on the party's credit cards. It appears Floridians' only hope is that federal investigators will ultimately reveal fact from fiction.

GOP plays politics with party audit

09/17/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 17, 2010 7:32pm]
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