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    Crist recalls Washington plane trip as contribution

    He was prepared to report the trip as a personal gift before remembering it as an "in-kind service.''


    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 7, 2001

    TALLAHASSEE -- Education Commissioner Charlie Crist says he has now discovered that the free airplane trip he took to Washington this year is considered a donation to the Florida Republican Party.

    Crist was prepared to file an amended report with state ethics officials after he learned that the trip from Tallahassee to Washington might be considered a personal gift from Republican fundraiser Al Hoffman.

    At the time Crist said he viewed the trip as a gift to the state, but when questions were raised about it recently, he contacted state ethics officials and was told he should consider it as a reportable gift.

    On Thursday, Crist said he was reminded that Hoffman actually declared the trip as an "in-kind" contribution to the party earlier this year.

    "I guess I forgot," Crist said.

    In a letter to the state party on March 14, Hoffman said the Jan. 23 ride was "an in-kind service" to Crist and the party reported it as a donation. That means the plane ride was a political contribution duly reported and not a gift to Crist. Contributions or expenditures made to a political party are exempt from the state gifts law, which requires public officials to report certain gifts.

    On Wednesday, Crist prepared a belated report declaring the trip a $520 gift from Hoffman but said his lawyers told him he does not have to file the report because Hoffman and the party have already disclosed it.

    Crist said he asked Hoffman for the ride because he wanted to make it on time for a White House education conference and needed to remain in Tallahassee for a Cabinet meeting. He could not get a commercial flight at the necessary hour and would not have arrived on time if he took a slower state airplane.

    "It's not an issue anymore," Crist said. The trip was the first of three Crist has taken to a series of White House education conferences called by President George Bush.

    Crist, elected to the state's top education post in 2000, is currently a candidate for state attorney general.

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