TALLAHASSEE - Florida's scandal-plagued Republican Party is trying frantically to pin the blame elsewhere. In its latest ploy, it has made public an audit which blames the state's outgoing governor, Charlie Crist, along with two former party executives, for abuse of state GOP funds.
While the alleged abuses attributed to former Florida GOP chair Jim Greer and former Executive Director Delmar Johnson were expected, the addition of Crist came as a surprise to many Floridians. Crist bolted the Republican Party and is now running for the United States Senate as an independent against GOP candidate Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek. Recent polls show Rubio slightly ahead of Crist, with Meek well behind but gaining support.
Supporters of Crist suggest a political motivation behind the audit, which was done at the behest of the Republican Party of Florida. The Jacksonville-based Florida Times-Union, in an article by Brandon Larrabee, describes the evidence against Crist as "light."
A statewide grand jury indicted former GOP chairman Greer on six felony counts: organized scheme to defraud, money laundering, and four counts of grand theft. As the Associated Press reported in June: "Greer funneled party money to a company called Victory Strategies that he controlled and concealed his relationship with, investigators said. On Greer's orders, the Republican Party of Florida paid Victory Strategies for campaign work, much of which was never performed. That was in addition to a 10 percent cut of major donations to the party that Greer took along with his top assistant, Delmar Johnson, state prosecutor William] Shepherd said. Greer got about $125,000 of the almost $200,000 that the party paid Victory Strategies."
The GOP audit confirmed that number, the precise amount as stated being $199,254.50. Greer also charged $5,616.79 to his GOP credit card in May 2009 for his son's baptism. The allegations against Crist concern trips with his family to Disney World in Orlando, as well as to Fisher Island and New York City, but the audit couches that in very careful and qualified wording, including use of terms such as "might" and "appears to be."
According to the Florida Times-Union, Crist campaign spokesman Danny Kanner dismissed the report as "smear tactics." The Crist campaign has alleged that GOP candidate Marco Rubio also has misused his GOP-issued credit card which, according to the newspaper, fell outside the scope of the audit which was conducted for the Florida GOP by a private firm.
Photo: Former Florida Republican chairman Jim Greer, indicted on six felony counts, with his wife Lisa after being released on bail from the Seminole County Jail on June 2. (AP /Orlando Sentinel, George Skene)