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Atwater says it's time to resurrect party leadership funds

As incoming House Leader Dean Cannon asked to have $655,000 in Republican Party funds transferred to his political committee, the question of whether it's time to resurrect leadership funds is emerging again in Tallahassee.

The funds were banned in the 1990s but the practice continued with a wink-wink as incoming leaders often raised money and had it privately earmarked within party coffers. Now Senate President Jeff Atwater says it may be time again to revive the leadership-controlled funds in the interest of transparency.

Atwater says the legislation will be proposed again this year and "it's worthy of us wrestling with it.'' The idea has the support incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos and candidate for Republican Party chairman Sen. John Thrasher.

"Let it be clear: Senate funds go to a Senate campaign,'' Atwater told the Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times Tuesday. "You can hold the people's names who are attached to it accountable...I think transparency is the best way. I think it’s worthy of us wrestling with it.''

On other issues brewing at RPOF headquarters, Atwater is not quite willing to say it's time to open up those credit card statements, including his now-relinquished AmEx card. "As soon as we get our new chair in, they will bring in a level of independent-minded players that can assure contributors to the Republican Party that all of these have been looked at,'' he said. "This is who signed off on them. This is who used our money as contributors. At the very least, they should do that. If they don't there is always going to be a suspicion by those who have been contributing to Republican causes.''

He said if the new chairman feels "that there remains a unique cloud of suspicion around the behavior of anyone who had a card and they feel like they should open them up and release them to the public and to the press, I’d say absolutely.''