She was a 25-year-old junior staffer when the Florida Republican Party gave her an American Express card.
Over the next 2½ years, nearly $1.3 million in charges wound up on Melanie Phister's AmEx — $40,000 at a London hotel, and nearly $20,000 in plane tickets for indicted former House Speaker Ray Sansom, his wife and kids, for starters. Statements show thousands spent on jewelry, sporting goods and in one case $15,000 for what's listed as a month-long stay at a posh Miami Beach hotel, but which the party says was a forfeited deposit.
The credit card records, obtained by the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald, offer the latest behind-the-scenes look at extravagant and free-wheeling spending by the party touting fiscal restraint. Not only did certain elite legislative leaders have their own party credit cards to spend donors' money with little oversight, but Phister's records show these leaders also liberally used an underling's card — without her knowledge, she says.