Gov. Charlie Crist is about the only one who could be surprised by Wednesday's arrest of former Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer on state charges of grand theft and money laundering. It has been clear for months that Greer was vulnerable to criminal charges following media reports that portions of political contributions to the state party were secretly diverted to a private company he controlled. But Greer's arrest does raise more questions about the actions of top Republicans who tried to quietly make the entire mess go away, and it increases the urgency that an ongoing federal investigation be as broad and as thorough as possible.
Within political circles, it was no secret that Greer had a taste for chartered jets, limousines and luxury hotels. Party credit card receipts later revealed his American Express card was billed $478,000 over three years, and millions more were billed to other GOP cards handed out to staffers and top legislators. Court documents released Wednesday say Greer was in so much personal debt that an unnamed Republican fundraiser quietly paid him $10,000 a month for more than 18 months. Greer also is accused of receiving more than $125,000 last year in money contributed to the state party but diverted to the private Victory Strategies company he created with the party's executive director, Delmar Johnson. Now Johnson is helping prosecutors connect the dots on Greer, and Greer could well start talking and make some other Republicans very nervous.
Greer went to some lengths to cover his tracks, but there were plenty of indications that too much money was sloshing around even as the state party was forced to draw on a line of credit. Yet in this corrupt culture of power and special interest money, few voices were raised until the embarrassing state party credit card receipts trickled out following former House Speaker Ran Sansom's indictment on other charges. Among the lingering questions:
Why did Crist (who did not have a state party credit card) blindly stick so long with Greer, his hand-picked GOP chairman?
How did he miss warning signs described in court documents, including Greer's intimidation of Crist's former chief fundraiser and efforts to bill Crist's Senate campaign for a nonexistent opinion poll?
Why did incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, sign a secret severance agreement with Greer in January that attempted to clear Greer of any wrongdoing as chairman?
Why did Attorney General Bill McCollum, who was credited Wednesday with calling for the investigation that led to Greer's arrest, wait so long to act?
The state investigation focused on Greer and his secret company, and the Florida Republican Party and its contributors were the victims. But the state's top elected Republicans are not blameless. They turned a blind eye, and they cultivated this supercharged political atmosphere of greed and entitlement. It is up to federal prosecutors and the Internal Revenue Service to determine whether they should be charged with something more.