June 14, 2010

Documents show McCollum's ties to shawdowy political group

UPDATED: Attorney General Bill McCollum is using his name to solicit contributions for the Florida First Initiative, which is airing attack ads against rival Rick Scott (see below),despite his campaign's suggestion that they are not affiliated.

New documents obtained by the Times/Herald show that McCollum's name is being used in the political group's fundraising pitch and his campaign finance director, Carrie O'Rourke, is involved in the solicitation. "Bill McCollum asked that I forward this information to you," the email solicitation reads, followed by the group's M&S Bank in Gainesville account number.

McCollum, who prides himself on his public disclosure record, could not be reached for comment because he is fundraising in South Florida. His campaign spokeswoman Kristy Campbell wouldn't answer questions other than to say Florida First Initiative "is not run by our campaign."

As it appears now, the political group -- called a federal 527 under IRS tax code -- is unregistered in Florida, which flies in the face of the new campaign finance law, but does not violate it.

When a Cabinet official who solicits directly (or indirectly) on behalf of a 527, he or she must file a disclosure with the Department of State. McCollum has filed no such disclosure.

See the attack ad, "Refused," here.

June 03, 2010

Who is Jim Greer's mystery benefactor?

One of the most mysterious elements of the affidavits in the Jim Greer case is the unnamed Republican Party donor who gave the indicted chairman $10,000 for 18 months. Greer apparently "pleaded for financial help" given his debts, which at one point hit $25,000, investigators said.

The Florida political world is abuzz with speculation about the identity with typical guesses fingering convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein and major GOP donor Harry Sargeant III, who was named in a federal criminal indictment. (Sources tell us Rothstein is not the donor.)

Gary Lee, a Florida GOP committeeman, told the Times/Herald that this is a key point for federal authorities investigating the finances surrounding Greer and the Republican party. "I know the bureau is keenly interested in that," Lee said Thursday.

He said FBI agents questioned him on the matter recently but he didn't know the identity of the donor. He said authorities are looking at possible charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and possibly campaign finance law violations. "They aren't done yet," Lee said.

May 28, 2010

Crist signs elections bill

Gov. Charlie Crist just announced he signed HB 131, which re-regulates shadowy elections groups known as 527s. The bill requires any electioneering group to disclose its source of funds 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election -- so long as they engage in any advertising.

May 19, 2010

Benson gets support from Crist loyalists, others

Republican Holly Benson named her money team Wednesday in her bid for attorney general. Benson, a former agency head in the Charlie Crist administration, attracted some familiar supporters of her previous boss, including uber-lobbyist Brian Ballard and Pinellas County's Paul Jallo. Other bold names: supporting her: Sen. Joe Negron and Sally Bradshaw.

The full list below.

Continue reading "Benson gets support from Crist loyalists, others" »

May 08, 2010

More juicy details from the GOP credit cards

The unprecedented look at Republican Party of Florida spending in its credit card statements is the gift that keeps on giving. Below find some more questionable expenses and interesting factoids:

Delmar's Valentine's Day trip: Former GOP Executive Director Delmar Johnson resigned Feb. 1. So why did his credit card statement include a four-night stay worth more than a $1,000 at a Courtyard Marriott in West Palm Beach over Valentine's Day weekend? It is possible someone else used Johnson's card, which is what he has said happened frequently, but it's interesting that the party would use the card of an official leaving under a cloud of suspicion. (And don't worry, if Delmar didn't go, he still spent $900 for two nights at Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach the week before he left the party.)

Continue reading "More juicy details from the GOP credit cards" »

Who spent the most on GOP plastic? Here's the list.

The Republican Party of Florida released 2,452 double-sided pages of credit card statements Friday revealing 31 card holders spent about $7.3 million from January 2007 through March 2010. Below is the list of every card holder and how much they spent. (Do note that the totals only reflect charges starting in 2007, even though many of these officials held American Express cards prior to that date.)

Jim Rimes, former executive director: $2.2 million

Delmar Johnson, former executive director: $1.4 million

Melanie Phister, aide to former Speaker Ray Sansom: $1.2 million

Debbie Bishop, deputy finance director: $694,000

Jim Greer, former chairman: $478,000

Cameron Ulrich, Senate campaigns finance director: $208,000

Carrie Madden, Senate campaigns staffer: $175,000

Ray Sansom, former House speaker: $167,000

Dean Cannon, incoming House speaker: $124,000

Jeremy Collins, special assistant to Greer: $118,000

Continue reading "Who spent the most on GOP plastic? Here's the list." »

April 30, 2010

Billionaire Democrat jumps in senate race

Jeffgreene And you thought Florida's topsy-turvy election year couldn't get crazier.  Now comes billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene of Palm Beach, a Democrat, jumping into Florida's already chaotic U.S. Senate race.
“I am an outsider, the only candidate who isn’t a career politician. I’ve succeeded in the real world of hard work – the others have only succeeded at running for political office after office,’’ said Greene, 55, in a video announcing his candidacy.

Greene said he he will refuse campaign contributions from special interests, and will limit individual donations to $100. That should be no giant sacrifice considering that Forbes last year estimated his net worth at $1.25-billion.<br> His colorful profile - Mike Tyson was best man at his 2008 wedding,  ex-Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss lived in his guest house after prison, and he made many of his millions betting on the housing collapse that killed Florida's economy - normally would make a candidate like Greene a long shot.

But in a race where Democratic frontrunner Kendrick Meek is little known to most voters and Crist non-partisan candidacy means it will be a three-way race, Greene's ability to saturate Florida TV with commercials could make him a major contender.

 "There is a big difference between what I did and what Wall Street did. What Wall Street did was wrong – they were motivated by greed and tried to win either way. That’s why I am a strong supporter of President Obama’s efforts to reform our financial regulatory system,'' said Greene, explaining that he invested in complex credit default swaps to protect his real estate investestments when he saw the real estate bubble look shaky. "Never did I imagine that the subprime mortgage market would implode, and I would make hundreds of millions of dollars."

Greene's pitch is similar to another obscure multi-millionaire candidate who recently popped up suddenly in Florida, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott. Both are touting their outsider status.

“I’m just as frustrated as you are,’’ Greene says in the video announcing his candidacy. “For too long, the career politicians we’ve sent to Washington have played partisan games and have failed us. All of the major candidates for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat have been inside government for the past 10 years. And during those 10 years, things have only gotten worse.’’

Greene only became a Florida resident in 2008, but he touts his longtime connections to the state. As a college student, he says he bussed tables at The Breakers posh hotel in Palm Beach, and his mother lives in Century Village, a modest retirement complex not far from the 12,000 square foot Palm Beach mansion purchased from Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer last year.

April 28, 2010

Crist's friend received RPOF gig for questionable work

UPDATED: Jay Burmer's firms actually received more than $350,000 through a "strategic media planning" contract with the party. Read new details here.

As forensic auditors scour the finances at the Republican Party of Florida after the ouster of former Chairman Jim Greer, one agreement is sure to raise a red flag: $316,000 the party paid to Jay Burmer, a close friend to Gov. Charlie Crist.

In a 2 1/2 year period ending in December 2009, Burmer's company Green Wolf Group, LLC received about $10,000 a month, according to the party's federal campaign finance reports, to serve as an outside communications consultant to the party.

It's a vague description for apparently vague work. GOP party officials -- former and current -- said they knew little about Burmer's role and it's unclear whether he ever signed a contract with the party.

What is known is Burmer's connection to Crist, who put Greer at the helm of the party in November 2006 when he took office. It's not clear who authorized his contract, whether it was Greer or a request from Crist.

Crist said in an interview that he knew Burmer worked for the party and called him a smart guy.

Continue reading "Crist's friend received RPOF gig for questionable work" »

April 22, 2010

Rubio's credit card hypocrisy

A day ago, Marco Rubio demanded the release all Jim Greer's GOP credit card statements during his time as chairman of the state party.

"I would ask you to strongly consider releasing all AMEX statement from Jim Greer's time as chairman to the RPOF Executive Committee," stated Rubio's letter, which tried to link Greer to Charlie Crist, his GOP primary opponent.

But it's interesting to note that Rubio won't release all his credit card statements. The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times obtained a portion of his statements during his tenure as House Speaker but the records didn't date back when he first received his party credit card.

So how does Rubio's campaign explain the seemingly hypocritical stance? They couldn't.

April 21, 2010

Is Crist scrubbing 'Republican' from campaign website? No, campaign says

UPDATED: State Rep. Tom Grady, a wealthy Naples Republican is the latest defection from the Charlie Crist U.S. Senate campaign. He was a member of the campaign's statewide finance team and a Southwest Florida regional chairman. Grady suggests that Crist's positioning as an independent and his recent veto is to blame.

His letter (read it below) cites an interesting reason: "As I reviewed your updated campaign website, I noticed a disheartening fact. Your website has eliminated all references to our Republican Party , or as you frequently refer to it, the party of Lincoln. As a long-time personal friend, I had suspected you were considering a break from the party when my recent calls went unanswered."

Crist's campaign rejected the assertion, calling it a fabricated story. “No Republican references have been scrubbed from our website, period," said Andrea Saul, a campaign spokeswoman. "You can view Governor Crist’s common sense conservative record on our website today, the same way you could before."

Grady further suggests Crist's "recent actions have not been about policy, but about emotion and crying. Policy and people have suffered as a result," he wrote, quoting, in part, a recent Peggy Noonan piece about Crist.

Continue reading "Is Crist scrubbing 'Republican' from campaign website? No, campaign says" »