Democrats grumble about GOP's $1-million

After the Massachusetts governor says the money will help Crist, Democrats file complaints with the state.

Published September 21, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Democrats on Wednesday accused Charlie Crist, the Republican Governors Association and the state GOP of violating state election laws by earmarking $1-million for Crist's campaign for governor.

The Leon County Democratic Party filed complaints against all three with the Florida Elections Commission.

The complaints cited a state law that prohibits a political party from accepting a contribution "that has been specifically designated for the partial or exclusive use of a particular candidate."

"This is not so much a partisan attack," said Rick Minor, chairman of the Leon County Democrats, who filed the complaints. "This is calling upon the attorney general to abide by the law."

The complaints were based on remarks Sunday by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, president of the Republican Governors Association. Standing with Crist at an airport news conference, Romney pledged $1-million to help Crist keep the Florida Governor's Mansion under Republican control.

"Let's send a million dollars to the Republican Party of Florida to support the Crist campaign," Romney told reporters.

Romney hinted that more money would be coming. "It ain't over yet," he said.

Crist denied the Democrats' complaint and called it politically motivated.

"There's no earmark," Crist said. "Nobody's going to violate the law. I think it's a little bit political on their part."

A letter from Romney's group to the state GOP made no mention of Crist's campaign.

Referring to the enclosed check for $1-million, the letter said: "The RGA's contribution is for your party's general political and get-out-the-vote efforts in this critical election cycle."

The letter was signed by Philip Musser, executive director of the Republican Governors Association.

It was dated Sept. 6, the day after Crist captured the Republican nomination by defeating Tom Gallagher with 64 percent of the vote.

"He Romney did not give us any instructions that he wanted it spent that way, and we will spend it the way we see fit" said Andy Palmer, the Florida GOP's executive director for political affairs.

"They can create as many letters as they want," Minor responded. "It was very clear, this was going to help Charlie Crist. ... This is an egregious violation. It doesn't get more clear-cut than this."

The practice of using political parties to earmark or steer large soft money donations to specific candidates has arisen before, but no complaints were filed.

Last year, the Leon County Democrats - before Minor was chairman - spent more than $94,000 to support its former chairman, Scott Maddox, before he dropped out of the race for governor.

In 2000, the Republican Party of Florida solicited $20,000 corporate checks for Bill McCollum's campaign for U.S. Senate that year. Corporate donations are prohibited in federal elections. The state GOP said the collected funds were used for all of its candidates.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.