TAMPA -- Florida Governor Charlie Crist's long-time friend, former factotum, and hand-picked candidate to be chairman of the Republican Party of Florida is in a heap of legal trouble. It's too soon to tell how much political trouble this will cause Crist, the former liberal Republican who, while still a liberal, is trying to become a U.S. Senator now without party affiliation.
Jim "Hey, Big Spender" Greer -- fond of ritzy hotels, gourmet restaurants, and travel by chartered jet -- was forced to resign his party chairmanship in February because he was ever so much better at spending campaign money than he was at collecting it. Florida statewide prosecutor Bill Shepherd alleges Greer spent a considerable chunk of Republican donors' money on himself.
State felony charges leveled Wednesday against Greer include theft, committing a scheme to defraud, and money laundering. He was released from the Seminole County jail on $10,050 bond eight hours after being arrested at his home near Orlando Wednesday morning. He says he's innocent of all wrong-doing.
The charges allege Greer had a secret consulting contract with the RPOF through a shell corporation called Victory Strategies that helped Greer and partner Delmar Johnson siphon off money donors gave to the party for political purposes.
Florida media are reporting Johnson has arranged a plea deal and is cooperating with prosecutors. As the case unfolds, we will learn how it's possible to have a "secret" contract with a political party.
Ironically, Greer's charges are the first to result from a state-wide grand jury formed to look into pubic corruption called for by Greer's old pal and traveling companion, Crist. The red flags had been up for months before Greer was finally cashiered as head of the party in February. Crist stuck by Greer to the bitter end, in spite of the considerable evidence that Greer was hurting the party and engaging in questionable activities. Crist at last seems to have cut the cord.
"I don't feel complicit," Crist said when asked if he bore any responsibility for Greer's activities. But then Crist has never felt complicit in anything that's gone wrong on his watch. So why should this be different? All he did was select Greer, maneuver him into the highest office in the party, campaign with him, and protect him to the last while those in the know were telling Crist there were serious problems. We'll find out before Nov. 2 how complicit Florida voters believe Crist to be.
Asked about the arrest at a press conference on the Gulf oil spill Wednesday, Crist said it would be "disappointing" if Greer has engaged in the activity he is charged with, which it certainly would be. And "surprising," which it could hardly be as Greer's spending habits were hiding in plain sight for months, if not years.
"I have faith in our judicial system," Crist said. "I know they will handle it appropriately." We can hope so. The political system in Florida, with Crist at the top of that food chain, certainly didn't handle it.
When Greer resigned his RPOF post in what almost everyone paying attention would consider disgrace, Crist issued the following statement: "I would like to commend my friend Chairman Jim Greer for his selfless dedication to the Republican Party of Florida over the last three years… Jim has long been a loyal servant to the Republican cause… Chairman Greer has and always will have my unwavering support."
We'll see in more detail as Greer's case progresses, but it appears Chairman Greer's service was not as selfless as Crist lets on. In fact, it appears that it was Republican donors who were being serviced by Greer and Johnson. The entire party may well suffer from this as news stories of inappropriate spending trickle out while the case unfolds.
The arrest yesterday breathed a little life into the campaign between liberal independent Crist, even more liberal Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek, and conservative former Speaker of the Florida House Marco Rubio for a U.S. Senate nomination. The campaign has entered a kind of "Phony War" phase with little activity from the three camps preparatory to active media campaigning to begin after Labor Day. Polls show a virtual dead heat between Rubio and Crist at around 32 percent for the lead, with Meek trailing badly, behind even "undecided" in some polls.
Crist's "non-complicit" non-response to his good friend being busted yesterday cut little ice with his two Senate opponents. Meek said, "Governor Crist is trying to walk away from his Republican past, but that past will forever haunt him."
It's not surprising that Meek would assert that Greer and Johnson's alleged bad acting represent a symptom of wide-spread Republican corruption. Leftstream media won't exert themselves in trying to correct this impression. The party will have to do this on its own.
The Rubio campaign isn't buying Crist's non compos complicit dodge either. "That's disingenuous and outrageous," Rubio campaign communication director Alex Burgos told me. "This is Charlie Crist's handpicked chairman. He built this guy's political career and kept him in a position of power. As late as January he was issuing statements in praise of him. Now he's trying to wipe his hands and absolve himself of any blame."
Well, even during WWII's Phony War, some shots were exchanged.
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