Some GOP Donors Put Off By Party’s Reckless Spending
Some Florida Republican donors say they’re wary of pouring cash into the state party following reports of free-spending by top GOP officials – including disgraced former House Speaker Ray Sansom’s $173,000 worth of American Express charges.
State Republican Chairman Jim Greer took scissors out at a GOP event last weekend and publicly cut up his card, and announced he was closing the unspecified number of credit cards issued by the party. House and Senate Republican leaders have already relinquished their party-issued charge cards in the wake of the Sansom revelations.
But organizations and individuals central to Republican fund-raising efforts told the News Service of Florida they have grown more cautious of giving to the party, even as election season dawns.
“We just think there’s a way we can spend and influence elections without giving to the party,” said Barney Bishop, president of Associated Industries of Florida, whose member organizations include some of the state’s largest corporations. “There’s been excess at the Florida Republican Party. It’s got to make you think twice about where your money is going.”
Officials from at least one other capital-based industry organization, which asked not to be publicly identified, said they planned to spend money directly on candidates while downsizing contributions to the state GOP. The heavy credit card spending, an official with the organization said, had been an open secret for several years among party insiders.
Florida Republicans have raised and spent roughly $40 million since Greer was elected chairman in January 2007. During that time, the party charged $3.6 million on American Express cards it later paid, according to state finance reports.
While party spending is detailed on these reports, Florida’s reporting system doesn’t require linking the credit card charges to specific purchases, instead showing them only as payments to American Express. Greer has declined to release further information on party credit card accounts, and is not compelled to by Florida’s public records laws.
Political parties are considered private organizations, under state law. Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff said no officials in that party have not been issued credit cards, but receive reimbursements for out-of-pocket expenses.
The Sansom expenses covered a two-year period and included a family trip to Europe, electronic equipment, flowers, hotels, meals and $839 at Starbucks. But they were made public only when released by prosecutors gathering material for his upcoming criminal trial for official misconduct and perjury. Sansom is accused violating state law in the way he steered millions of state funds to a college in his district.
Greer, himself, has come under fire when newspapers connected $5,100 in party charges to a trip with his wife to The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach that included meals and spa treatments.
“Anytime something like this happens, people start talking,” said Van Poole, a Tallahassee lobbyist and Florida Republican chairman from 1989 to 1993. Poole said that during that era only three party officials held credit cards: the chairman, executive director and finance director.
“It seems like the number of cards has expanded since then,” Poole said. “But when the economy is so tight, you don’t even want to have the appearance of elaborate spending.”
Marty Fiorentino, a Jacksonville lobbyist and Republican fund-raiser, acknowledged that some “top-tiered” contributors have been concerned about party spending. But he added, “Greer made the right decision to cut up the cards.
“I think people will respect what he did. But it’s just like with a private company. Sometimes you have to be pushed to change spending habits,” he said. “But some contributors did think that things had gotten out-of-control.”
Katie Gordon, a Florida Republican Party spokeswoman, said Greer felt that recalling the credit cards and requiring all party officials to submit expenses for reimbursement, will bring a “new level of accountability.”
“I don’t know what the feeling might be in donor-world,” Gordon said. “But if they have concerns, they can look at our expenditures and see what we are spending money on.”