U.S. Senate candidate Bill Grant has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the congressional check-kiting scandal, seven months after he disclosed writing 106 bad checks on the House bank.
"It means what I said all along," Grant said Monday while campaigning in Stuart. "I said I had the perfect defense for charges about me overdrafting checks: I didn't do it." Grant said earlier that the House bank posted his deposits late and that bank workers never informed him the institution was covering his overdrafts, which amounted to $71,895.
The Republican nominee said the letter from the special counsel investigating the banking scandal could give him a badly needed fund-raising boost in his underdog campaign against Sen. Bob Graham, the Democratic incumbent and former two-term governor.
Grant, who served two terms in the House before his defeat in 1990, was named as one of the check writers in the House banking scandal that drove public confidence in Congress to record lows.
For the onetime "country banker" from the small North Florida town of Madison, the disclosure was an embarrassment that hurt his fund-raising efforts and caused many Republican Party supporters to spurn his longshot campaign.
Grant proved his critics wrong in the primary, winning convincingly over his main challenger, former Federal Maritime Commissioner Rob Quartel of Orlando.
And though he now has the nomination and a letter clearing him of criminal charges, Grant has no money just three weeks until election day.
"There's no question (that) had we not had that issue, we would have had an easier time raising money," Grant said. "Now that it's done, perhaps we can raise some money in this critical last three weeks."
Grant was notified in an Oct. 7 letter from Special Counsel Malcolm R. Wilkey that his case would go no further.
"On the evidence we have reviewed, I have concluded that there is no basis for pursuing a further inquiry regarding possible criminal violations concerning your account," Wilkey wrote.
Grant disclosed the overdrafts in March when he was launching his campaign against Graham. He acknowledged no wrongdoing but said he was embarrassed over the disclosure.
As the primary heated up and Quartel mentioned the check scandal repeatedly, Grant continued to deny he had intentionally written overdrafts. He disclosed his records of bank deposits and withdrawals and said the House bank's sloppy record keeping was responsible for the overdrafts.
Jay Hakes, Graham's campaign manager, said the checks were not an issue Graham planned to bring up.
"I think if in fact there's no intent to press criminal charges it is more than fair to make that public," Hakes said. But "criminal charges are not the only issue in check bouncing." He said the House investigators were using a different standard than "a banker or someone who had a normal checking account."
Both candidates will begin to focus today on preparation for their first debate, Wednesday at the Capital Tiger Bay Club in Tallahassee.
And each candidate may unleash charges that his opponent says one thing and does another.
"We'll be contrasting his rhetoric versus reality," Grant said of his opponent.
Hakes said Graham is likely to talk about changes in Grant's political philosophy from "a fairly liberal Democrat to a conservative Republican." At the urging of President Bush, Grant switched parties in 1989, then lost his seat in Congress the following year.