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Ray Sansom, big spender of RPOF money

CREDIT CARD 6 Ousted House Speaker Ray Sansom racked up about $173,000 on his Republican Party of Florida issued American Express Card, spending liberally on trips to Europe, New York, Disney and at restaurants as incongruous as Diva in SOHO to Po' Boys in Tallahassee, according to records released today as part of the criminal case against him.

The records show spending both lavish ($2,112 at the Apple Store in Manhattan) and prosaic ($24.34 at Tropical Smoothie and $6.15 at Target.) Sansom, R-Destin, spent thousands on flowers and electronics. On a single day in January 2008, he spent $1,900 at Best Buy and charged more than $11,000 there overall.

In December 2007, Sansom bought a $739 plane ticket for one of his daughters to fly from LaGuardia Airport to Birmingham. In June 2008 he bought more than $2,000 in plane tickets for the entire family. Then in July, he charged thousands more on family travel to Europe, where he dined at TGI Fridays, Noura Brasserie, Spaghetti House and Hard Rock London.

The credit card statements -- the outstanding balance topped $20,000 at one point -- are the first time in recent memory that detailed spending by GOP officials has been made public, exposing what has long been a source of curiosity and friction among top campaign contributors concerned how their money is being spent.

“There are an awful lot of people who are concerned how the party is spending money,” said veteran Tallahassee lobbyist Ken Plante. “I don’t think they’ll be very happy. It’s troubling.”

Sansomgaggle Sansom first got the card in 2006, two years before be was to be sworn in as House speaker. He was directing the House campaign effort during that period, but many of the purchases seem unrelated to that effort.

Sansom has been indicted on felony charges stemming from $6 million he got for an airport building in Destin that records show was going to be used by a developer friend, Jay Odom.

Odom, who has also been charged along with college president Bob Richburg, had given Republicans and a political committee controlled by Sansom about $1 million.

The records obtained by State Attorney Willie Meggs appear to be a way to link Odom's generosity with Sansom. Meggs would not comment. The Times/Herald obtained the records through a public records request.

As the Times/Herald previously reported, Sansom used the AMEX to pay for a $597 dinner at the private FSU University Club that was attended by the Northwest Florida State College board of trustees and others -- a meeting that raised questions about the violation of the Sunshine Law.

But that was only a blip. Sansom used the card to pay for dinners, hotels, flowers and repeated trips to Starbucks.

The records, of course, do not give the full context of whether Sansom was entertaining donors or other guests as part of official RPOF business. And surely a good portion is related to that work. But there are many other instances that raise questions.

Just some of the CC charges, in no particular order:

  • $348 for personal baby sitting services from Nanny Can in December 2006.
  • $117 for a New Year's eve meal in 2006 at Jim & Nick's Bar-B-Q in San Destin
  • $320 at Cole Haan in Destin in May 2008. $224 at Kenneth Cole in October 2007.
  • $8,993 at Friendly Florist in Fort Walton Beach
  • $1,386 for catalog merchandise from PhotoWorks in Seattle in February 2008.
  • $69.50 for fabric and yarn at Jo Ann Fabrics in Fort Walton Beach in March 2007.
  • $975 for tuxedo rentals in October 2008.
  • $2,598 for jet fuel in Destin in January 2007.
  • $222 at Harrods, a luxury store in London.
  • $176 in "misc home furnish" from the Bombay Co. in Destin

RPOF chairman Jim Greer would not discuss Sansom’s spending directly, but said he has taken steps in the last year to curb excessive and dubious use of party AMEX cards.

“As chairman of the party, all expenditures fall under my responsibility,” said Greer, whose own spending has been questioned. “However any expenditures that I have determined were inappropriate, I have taken steps to ensure they do not happen in the future.”

He would not say whether some of Sansom’s spending was inappropriate or whether Sansom reimbursed the party.

“Credit cards are issued to people that have a reason to have one, either for fundraising or political purposes,” Greer said. “When they are issued they are issued with a confidence of trust. When that trust is broken, you revoke their ability to charge.”

Greer said he would not voluntarily release other party credit card records. Said party spokeswoman Katie Gordon, "We cannot comment further due to confidentiality requirements."