The Republican Party of Florida is stepping up its attacks on former State Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, the Democrat who's trying to oust Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan from Congress.
An RPOF release says John Saputo, an appointee of former Gov. Charlie Crist and trustee of New College, where Fitzgerald is a professor, has asked Fitzgerald to "put students ahead of his political ambitions and take an unpaid leave to run for Congress."
RPOF doesn't mention that Saputo has donated $3,250 to Buchanan since 2009 and several family members appear to have also donated, according to filings from the Federal Elections Commission.
The release also accuses Fitzgerald of being "embroiled in an ethics scandal." As a former House member, Fitzgerald voted on state budgets that included money for New College without filing conflict-of-interest forms.
Buchanan himself is under "no fewer than four congressional and federal investigations" for an actual ethics scandal, according to a June report by CNN's Anderson Cooper.
In response to RPOF's accusations, Fitzgerald put out the following statement.
"Congressman Vern Buchanan's allegations are despicable and baseless
lies. This false, sleazy, personal attack is exactly what is wrong with
politics today. I am sick of it and I want everyone to know that I am
calling out these lies for what they are."
RPOF didn't respond to calls for comment. The Florida Democratic Party called the accusations "hypocritical" and "painfully shameless." The release is below.
NEW COLLEGE TRUSTEE SCOLDS ETHICALLY CHALLENGED PROFESSOR
Professor Keith Fitzgerald Campaigns for Congress on Taxpayers Dime, Trustee Tells him to Take Unpaid Leave
Sarasota, Fla - A member of the New College Board of Trustees today asked one of the school's professors, Keith Fitzgerald, to put students ahead of his political ambitions and take an unpaid leave to run for Congress. Fitzgerald is embroiled in an ethics scandal for not disclosing his conflict of interest in voting in the state legislature on millions of dollars in state funding for New College. Two ethics complaints have been filed against Fitzgerald with the Florida Commission on Ethics.
In a letter to the editor of the Bradenton Herald, New College Trustee John Saputo criticized Fitzgerald for further staining the reputation of New College by demanding to be paid to run for Congress. "Several trustees thought that if Professor Fitzgerald wanted to run for the Legislature, or now for Congress, he should keep New College out of his political ambitions and take the 'stand-up course of action' and take an 'unpaid sabbatical,'" wrote Saputo.
Saputo objects to New College "paying Fitzgerald to run for Congress while hiding behind his union contract" and for "allowing him to make New College kindling in his political quest for a congressional seat at a time when we have a $1 million budget deficit."
"Wouldn't we all like to run for Congress and be paid by the state of Florida?" asked Saputo. "Many of the trustees would like to keep the college out of Professor Fitzgerald's campaign for Congress by again asking him to take an unpaid sabbatical."
State Senator John Thrasher recently denounced Fitzgerald's failure to disclose his conflict of interest while a member of the Florida Legislature, saying "citizens expect better from elected officials and it is disappointing that we find ourselves having to address this problem with individuals running for public office."