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Music aficionado alert! $25K fundraiser – 3 Florida House speakers plus Nola Jazzfest

Monday, April 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

High-rolling music lovers can unfold their wallets and get off the chain in the Big Easy while supporting Florida House races at a Republican Party of Florida fundraiser later this month.

The event? The first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, one of the country’s most rollicking music jubilees. It’s being hosted by the Republican Party of Florida on behalf of three future House Speakers – Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel; Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary; and Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity – to round up cash for Florida GOP House races.

The cost? $25,000.

That might seem like a lot of dough to trudge in the gnat-infested, dusty New Orleans fairgrounds in what can be withering heat – if it’s not raining, in which the multi-stage venue turns into a mudfest. (Note to donors who plan to attend: Wear close-toed shoes.)

But the headliners during the three-day fundraiser on April 27-29 include Bruce Springsteen, Florida homegrown rocker Tom Petty and Al Green (With apologies to the GOP, if you haven’t heard President Obama singing Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” check it out here. Plus there’s dozens of other bands featuring just about every music genre including gospel, zydeco, klezmer, R & B, jazz and Americana. And there’s sure to be a VIP tent with plenty of water and other libations and cooling stations where fans can chill.

Supporters can stay at The Saint, a swank Canal Street hotel in the French Quarter.

The 2012 session’s early finish in March this year due to redistricting is a plus, because the first weekend of Jazzfest usually collides with the last week of the regular legislative session.

Some might view the New Orleans locale as a surprise, however, given lawmakers’ concerns about helping boost the Sunshine State’s economy.

McCollum endorses Scott for governor…finally

Friday, October 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

After more than two months since GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott defeated him in a brutal primary election, Attorney General Bill McCollum finally came out in support of his one-time foe.

“Florida is facing a critical time. Our state needs conservative leaders who will grow our economy and create jobs. We need merit pay and an end to teacher tenure in our public schools, major litigation reform, smaller government, low taxes and a repeal of Obamacare. With this in mind, I will cast my vote for Rick Scott for Governor. It’s the better choice for Florida,” McCollum’s less-than-enthusiastic statement, released by the Republican Party of Sarasota, read.

McCollum, at one point a shoe-in for the nomination, lost the GOP primary after Scott spent $50 million of his own fortune on campaign ads attacking the former Congressman for being a Washington insider.

McCollum said recently he would not endorse Scott’s Democratic opponent Alex Sink, in part because she supports the federal health care law over which McCollum has sued the federal government.

A federal judge recently allowed McCollum’s lawsuit to proceed.

McCollum was the final holdout among state GOP leaders who at one point pilloried Scott, who was forced out of the hospital chain he founded shortly before Columbia/HCA was forced to pay $1.7 billion in fines to the federal government for Medicare fraud.

Guv race ad wars: Dems run two new ads blasting Scott

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Florida Democratic Party released two new TV ads today, one a hard-hitting attack piece bashing GOP gubernatorial nominee Rick Scott and the other a softer piece promoting opponent Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.

The first ad, titled “Trust,” features clips from television news reports of Scott evading reporters asking questions about the $1.7 billion in fines Scott’s former company Columbia/HCA was forced to pay the federal government for Medicare fraud.

It ends with a reporter asking Scott “The question is how could you have missed such an abuse by your own company?”

UPDATE: State GOP audit reveals lavish spending by former party chief

Friday, September 17th, 2010 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Gov. Charlie Crist had this to say about the RPOF audit released today:
“I went to Disney World with my wife and my two stepdaughters and we paid for it ourselves.”

An audit of state GOP spending revealed that former party chief Jim Greer spent tens of thousands of dollars on lavish hotel rooms and trips unrelated to official business, including more than $5,000 on costs associated with his son’s baptism.

The audit, released to the public today, also found that the Republican Party of Florida picked up a $13,435.59 tab for a personal trip to Disney World Greer and his family took with Gov. Charlie Crist and his wife Carole and possibly her two daughters in June 2009.

Crist, who left the Republican Party this spring to run as an independent in the U.S. Senate race, said earlier this week he had no idea about possible misspending on travel after Thrasher threatened to take Crist to court to recoup the money if Crist didn’t repay it.

But the audit showed that Crist and his wife and the Greers spent more than $13,000 on a personal holiday at the Walt Disney World Contemporary Hotel.

Greer also charged $10,992.17 on his RPOF-issued American Express card for three personal vacations to Fisher Island, including one in which Crist participated, the audit found. Carole Crist owns a home on the exclusive enclave.

Crist’s campaign responded with a statement demanding that his opponent, former House Speaker Marco Rubio, release all of his credit card statements prior to the dates covered in the audit.

“Republican party bosses engaging in smear tactics to cover-up the wrongdoing of their own nominee? Shocking. Now that the bosses have ended their partisan charade, they must immediately release all of Marco Rubio’s credit card records dating back to when he was Speaker-Designate to determine the extent to which he charged the party for personal expenses like family reunions and real estate payments,” Crist campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said in an e-mail.

Crist on travel charges: ‘I don’t know what they’re talking about’

Monday, September 13th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist says he’s in the dark about state GOP leaders’ demands that he pay them back for travel expenses unassociated with party business.

“It’s the typical political season stuff that we’re going to see. I think it’s sad and just indicates how partisanship gets in the way,” Crist told reporters this morning after a memorial service for missing children at the Capitol.

Republican Party of Florida Chairman John Thrasher threatened Friday to sue Crist and Jim Greer, Crist’s hand-picked party chairman, to get reimbursed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel costs. The expenses in question were charged to Greer and former party executive director Delmar Johnson. Crist did not have one of the party American Express cards in question.

Greer resigned in January and was charged in June with fraud, theft and money laundering for his alleged misuse of party money. Greer has pleaded not guilty. Greer maintains he is innocent.

Thrasher and other GOP leaders huddled for hours over an internal audit Friday at their annual meeting in Orlando but refused to release the audit to the public. Thrasher, a former House Speaker who is also a state
senator from St. Augustine, said he may take Crist, Greer and Johnson to court to get the money back.

“I don’t even know what they’re talking about. As you know, they haven’t been transparent. They haven’t
released any of the report. So it’s hard to even know what they’re talking about,” Crist said.

Crist, who abandoned the GOP this spring to run as an independent in the U.S. Senate race against Republican Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Democrat, said Thrasher has not asked him for reimbursement of the alleged charges.

“We don’t even know what they are. Neither do you. They won’t show us the report,” Crist said.

Wanna buy Crist’s portrait? Thrasher to sell it on E-bay

Thursday, April 29th, 2010 by Dara Kam

State Republican Party Chairman John Thrasher didn’t mince words about Gov. Charlie Crist’s decision to run with no party affiliation to avoid a GOP primary in the U.S. Senate race against former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

“He’s been gone a long time, in my opinion, and this just kind of makes it official,” Thrasher, a state senator from St. Augustine told reporters shortly after Crist’s announcement.

Thrasher won’t ask for his GOP registration card back, though.

“All I’m going to do is take his picture down at Republican Party headquarters. And probably put it on E-bay and see what we do,” Thrasher said.

When asked how much he thought it would bring, Thrasher said: “Questionable.”

Crist wouldn’t be where he is today without RPOF, former chairman says

Friday, April 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist wouldn’t be the political superstar he is today without the state GOP’s support, former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Al Cardenas said.

Cardenas took over as the head of the RPOF shortly after Crist made his first U.S. Senate bid in 1998. Incumbent U.S. Bob Graham trounced Crist in that race. Two years later, Crist ran for education commissioner and won with 54 percent of the vote.

“When he was given an opportunity to rebuild his political career, the party almost single-handedly funded his campaign for commissioner of education and revived his career,” Cardenas said. “He’s done very well on his own efforts but never independent of what the party’s been able to do for him.”

Based on the RPOF’s assistance to Crist in each of his campaigns, Cardenas said, Crist ought to “either stay in the process and try to win the primary or do what Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan and George Bush and everybody else has done who didn’t win the nomination and support the ticket.”

Florida candidates owe fealty to their parties, Cardenas said.

“There are some states where elected officials do their own thing and the party is not very active and there are others where a majority status has been built on the shoulders of thousands of donors and contributors,” he explained. “We happen to be the type of state where the party literally jump-starts people’s careers. When you live in that environment, you have to have a different loyalty approach to the party.”

GOP leaders oust former chairman Greer from leadership roles

Friday, April 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Greer: fears socialist indoctrination in Obama speech

Greer: fears socialist indoctrination in Obama speech

The Republican Party of Florida essentially kicked former Chairman Jim Greer out of the party today, stripping him of everything but his voter registration card.

Greer’s successor, Sen. John Thrasher, removed Greer from all offices Greer held at a secret meeting in Tallahassee today.

The RPOF executive board unanimously supported Thrasher’s decision, Thrasher said in a statement.

Greer’s ouster from the party comes amid a federal investigation into the past chairman and other former high-ranking GOP officials and their credit card spending.
Greer filed suit today against the party last week, accusing the GOP of reneging on almost $124,000 he says the party owes him in severance pay.

“Based on the information that has come to light during the recent Party audit, I have determined that Mr. Greer has engaged in activities that have injured the name and status of the Republican Party of Florida, and has grossly interfered with the activities of the Republican Party,” Thrasher said in the statement.

Greer sued the GOP for allegedly reneging on almost $124,000 he says the party owes him in severance pay. He also accused the party in the lawsuit of offering him $200,000 in hush money, which RPOF officials deny.

Thrasher ordered an audit of the spending under Greer, and Gov. Charlie Crist, who hand-picked Greer to head the party after his 2006 election, asked federal investigators to launch an inquiry into possible misspending.

RPOF Chairman Thrasher on Crist, credit cards and condemnation

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010 by Dara Kam

Sen. John Thrasher, chairman of the maligned Republican Party of Florida, has a lot to contend with.

Things are heating up in the legislature with less than 10 days to go before the session’s end.

Federal investigators are snooping around former high-ranking GOP officials, including his predecessor at the Party Jim Greer, and their credit card spending.

And Gov. Charlie Crist is considering abandoning the party that helped him to victory in the state Senate, two Cabinet seats and the governor’s mansion.

Crist’s consideration of dropping out of the GOP primary against former House Speaker Marco Rubio and running as an independent in the fall has Crist’s former allies (and those who weren’t big fans of the governor to begin with) coming out in droves to distance themselves from the former sure-bet for U.S. Senate.

Thrasher offered some advice to Crist’s critics, including House Speaker Larry Cretul: Chill.

Sink campaign shuffle: Dunn out as manager, Emily’s List strategist in as deputy

Thursday, April 8th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s campaign manager Paul Dunn is gone and Emily’s List strategist Shellie Levin is on board as deputy manager for Sink’s Democratic gubernatorial campaign.

Sink’s campaign didn’t announce the changes but offered this statement on the changes.

“Under the direction of Sink for Governor Chief of Staff Jim Cassady, the campaign is pleased to announce that respected Florida strategist Shellie Levin has joined the campaign as deputy campaign manager. Levin, a longtime Miami resident, most recently served as EMILY’s List Majority Council Director for the Southeast U.S. and will help the campaign continue to reach out to Floridians up and down the state to share Alex’s vision for the future of Florida. The campaign also is announcing today that Paul Dunn will be leaving the campaign, and we wish him continued success in his future endeavors.”

Sink’s staff changes brought a swift response from the state GOP.

“After six months of lackluster fundraising, it’s no wonder that Alex Sink decided to shake up her stagnant campaign,” Republican Party of Florida Executive Director Ronnie Whitaker said in a statement. “What is surprising is that Sink decided to hire a former senior staffer from a pro-abortion group, after previously refusing to disclose how much funding she received from that same group, or even simply listing their support on her campaign web site.”

Atwater blames Thrasher for not giving up GOP credit card statements

Monday, March 1st, 2010 by Dara Kam

Senate President Jeff Atwater said he is more than willing to hand over his Republican Party of Florida-issued American Express credit card statements but that the party’s new chairman, Sen. John Thrasher, won’t do it.

Reporters asked Atwater, who is running statewide for chief financial officer, about the notorious AmEx spending that’s embroiled former House Speaker and U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio and former House Speaker Ray Sansom.

“I asked Chairman Thrasher if he would release the statements of the RPOF credit card that was assigned to me and he said no,” Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said. “He said he has his internal process going on…I have asked him and he has said no. That is the party’s card. It is not my card. I do not have the statements.”

When pressed about why Atwater did not request the statements, he insisted he could not.

“I’m not the card. That would be RPOF. It’s RPOF’s card. So if RPOF were to request those statements I assume they could get them. At this point, it is the party’s card. And I have asked the chairman would you release any card statements that were associated with me? I have no qualms about what anyone would see on that and he said no, we’re doing our process.”

Atwater had one of the AmEx cards while he was recruiting Republican Senate candidates and raising money for the party in 2007 and 2008. He says he used the card strictly for party-related business.

The cards, issued to an undisclosed group of top elected Republicans and party officials, have been a continuing source of embarrassment as details have emerged of lavish spending by former Chairman Jim Greer (including that $3,600 meal at Brasserie L’Escalier), indicted former House Speaker Ray Sansom (his $173,000 in AmEx charges included a family trip to Europe and an $893 Starbucks tab) and former exec director Delmar Johnson ($133,763 in a single month last summer).

Rubio got his turn in the AmEx spotlight last week when someone, presumably a supporter of opponent Gov. Charlie Crist’s slumping GOP Senate bid, leaked records of Rubio’s $125,000 in charges from 2006 to 2008. No Greer-scale extravagances emerged, but the records showed a $133.75 visit to Churchill’s Barber Shop in Miami that Rubio said he paid himself.

Haridopolos and Cannon refuse to release GOP credit card charges

Friday, February 26th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Sen. Mike Haridopolos and Rep. Dean Cannon – on tap to be the next Senate President and House Speaker – aren’t coughing up their state GOP-issued credit card statements, the pair said in a press release today.

“While the media is now calling for the release of many of the Party’s internal financial records, it is our firm belief that the professional auditors should be allowed to do their job without the interference of a media circus surrounding the release of any records,” Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, and Cannon, R-Winter Park, said in the release.

The leaders-to-be issued the release after former House Speaker Marco Rubio’s American Express statements were leaked to the media earlier this week, causing embarrassment for Rubio’s U.S. Senate campaign and glee for his GOP primary opponent Gov. Charlie Crist.

Crist has said that the Republican Party of Florida books should be opened up because of questionable spending by RPOF staff. The party’s spending was among the reasons former state GOP boss Jim Greer was forced out last month.

New RPOF Chairman Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, ordered an audit of the party’s books to begin on Monday.

But he won’t release the statements, either.

Dems unleash second video targeting Rubio GOP party credit card scandal

Friday, February 26th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Democratic National Committee released a second video highlighting U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio’s state GOP party-issued credit card spending when Rubio was Florida House Speaker.

The Dems’ attack ad is curious, however, because it appears to promote Rubio’s opponent Gov. Charlie Crist.

Interspersed with newsclips from MSNBC and FoxNews are interviews with Crist in which he criticizes Rubio’s AmEx spending and comments that if Rubio doesn’t like the flak, “That’s too bad. Welcome to the NFL.”

Rubio racked up nearly $110,000 on his Republican Party of Florida American Express card -including expenditures for items like Internet music, wine and repairs to his family mini-van – that are raising eyebrows on TV news shows nationwide.

The first ad is a take-off on the MasterCard “Priceless” marketing campaign. It also ends with the RPOF’s Tallahassee street address and advises watchers to send their credit card bills there.

Dems spoof state GOP credit card scandal with ‘priceless’ video

Friday, February 26th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Capitalizing on the scandal erupting over the state GOP’s credit card spending, national Democrats released a video take-off of the MasterCard “Priceless” television campaign.

The spoof highlights some of the Republican Party of Florida-issued credit card charges now-U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio made when Florida House Speaker, including $1,000 in repairs to his family mini-van.

“Getting your personal bills paid for by the Republican Party of Florida like Marco Rubio: Priceless,” the Democratic National Committee video mocks.

The state GOP may get some unwanted mail as a result of the “Priceless” satire.

“Want your bills paid for by the Republican Party of Florida? Just send them in. 420 E. Jefferson Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32301,” it concludes.

The DNC ad targets Rubio at a time when the once-long-shot candidate’s popularity is soaring while his GOP primary opponent Gov. Charlie Crist’s is on the wane.

Dems shut down McCollum anti-corruption hotline

Monday, February 15th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Bill McCollum continues to defer to GOP party leaders instead of ordering an investigation into possible criminal conduct regarding credit card abuses at the Republican Party of Florida.

McCollum today said he may ask the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look into the matter but that he would wait until the new chairman of the RPOF – expected to be Sen. John Thrasher – is elected this weekend.

Also today, Florida Democrats shut down McCollum’s anti-corruption hotline, filling up the 800 number’s voice mail in an effort to draw attention to McCollum’s refusal to investigate the credit card charges even after other top Republicans want the books opened.

McCollum said he won’t ask for inquiry until an audit of the RPOF is complete and he gets direction from the new party chairman to move although Gov. Charlie Crist last week said that party officials should open the books now.

“I’m waiting about what the new chairman might discover. I don’t see any evidence at this point of criminal behavior,” McCollum said today after a speech to the National Federation of Independent Business.


Conflict of interest for Thrasher as Senate elections chairman and head of RPOF?

Friday, January 8th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson wants Sen. John Thrasher stripped of two important committee assignments if he is annointed chairman of the state GOP as expected.

Lawson asked Senate President Jeff Atwater today to remove Thrasher as chairman of the Ethics and Elections Committee and off the powerful reapportionment committee if he is also chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

“The conflict is evident: Senator Thrasher’s primary job as RPOF head is to see that Republicans win and maintain office through the elections process – a process in which his committees – one of which he controls – play a critical role,” Lawson, D-Tallahassee, wrote Atwater this morning.

Thrasher, a former House Speaker, returned to the legislature in a nasty special election to replace the late Sen. Jim King of Jacksonville. The trial lawyers’ association political arm targeted Thrasher in a racially-charged mailer that resulted in a shake-up at the Florida Justice Association leadership and forced former executive director Scott Carruthers to resign.

Thrasher’s special election drama was one of the reasons why Atwater appointed him to chair the committee, Atwater said at the time. Campaign reforms are at the top of Thrasher’s agenda this session, the Jacksonville lobbyist said late last year.

Along with members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, I was deeply troubled by the announcement earlier this week that Republican Senator John Thrasher may take over as head of the Republican Party of Florida, while maintaining his seat in the Florida Senate.

“As you know, the task of the committee he chairs is to set public policy on maintaining fair and unbiased elections. The task of the second of which he is a member is to oversee the drawing of legislative districts. To allow Senator Thrasher to remain in dual chairmanship roles and/or as a member of a committee holding sway over fair representation would threaten the integrity of the process as a whole,” Lawson wrote.

Stay tuned for a response from Atwater.

Greer accuses dissidents of treason, slander and libel

Monday, December 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Republican Party of Florida Jim Greer, under fire from GOP discontents trying to oust him from his post, removed the party’s grievance chairman Tony DiMatteo from the committee set to deal with a complaint about the party infighting.

Greer accused dissidents of “treason,” “slander” and “libel” in a letter to party leaders.

In the letter, Greer, handpicked by Gov. Charlie Crist, warns he won’t back down from his leadership spot despite efforts by what he calls Marco Rubio backers to get rid of him. (more…)

GOP huddle hush-hush

Thursday, November 19th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The state GOP executive committee is huddling in a private meeting with RPOF Chairman Jim Greer appease demands from numerous county chairmen that he back down from what critics say are heavy-handed tactics.

Greer’s folks at Republican Party of Florida headquarters aren’t revealing anything about the meeting in Howey-in-the-Hills in Lake County. It’s the second meeting in as many weeks aimed at reuniting a splintered party made even more divided over the U.S. Senate race between Gov. Charlie Crist and ultra-conservative favorite former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

Greer’s spokeswoman Katie Betta would not provide a list of attendees and said Greer probably won’t agree to an interview afterwards to debrief reporters on what went down.

“As far as the meeting goes, the Chairman has asked that we not release any information on the executive board retreat due to the confidential nature of the meeting,” Betta responded to a request for information in an e-mail. Greer “does not want to discuss the meeting,” she added.

Palm beach County GOP Chairman Sid Dinerstein can’t attend the GOP powwow because he has a Palm Tran meeting today. He said he thinks some board members will try to oust Greer, but the measure won’t succeed. Dinerstein has criticized Greer’s favoritism for Crist in the past but has said he does not favor booting Greer.


Former Fla GOP chairman Slade endorses Dockery

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Tom Slade is backing Sen. Paula Dockery in her challenge against Attorney General Bill McCollum for governor.

Slade, who served as chairman from 1992-2000, is an unabashed critic of his own party and carries a considerable cachet among GOP insiders.

“McCollum is a nice guy, but I think he would be better in the U.S. Senate, where I think his skills are better suited. But I think Paula would do a better job of being governor. She’s got the kind of tenacity you need, and she’s got the knowledge,” Slade said in a press release.

Slade’s backing of Dockery, considered an underdog early in the race, comes as state GOP leaders gather in a secret session tomorrow to try to reunite their splintered party.

Several county leaders have asked for Chairman Jim Greer’s ouster and criticized what some call his heavy-handed tactics, including efforts to quash primary races and premature endorsements of McCollum and Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist is running against former House Speaker Marco Rubio, a GOP conservative sweetheart, for U. S. Senate.

State GOP chair Greer to McCollum challenger Dockery: Need help? Just ask!

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer offered a helping hand to Sen. Paula Dockery, who’s complained that her party isn’t doing anything to aide her gubernatorial bid.

Dockery announced yesterday she’s challenging Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum in a bid for governor and defying Greer’s wishes to avoid GOP primaries in high-profile (and expensive) races.

Then Dockery lashed out today after the RPOF sent out an e-mail from McCollum’s campaign touting his endorsements from GOP bigwigs.

RPOF spokeswoman Katie Gordon Betta responded with the following e-mail to

“I spoke to the Chairman and he wants to clarify that the RPOF authorizes payment of certain allocable and non -allocable expense for statewide candidates at the request of those candidates. We aren’t ‘spending money’ on the McCollum Campaign – we are paying for certain expenses at the request of the campaign – just like we do for the other primary campaigns.

“Senator Dockery has not spoken to the Chairman or the RPOF regarding these resources. The Chairman congratulates the senator on her decision to seek the Republican nomination. The RPOF is willing to extend every courtesy to the Dockery Campaign, but to this point Senator Dockery’s Campaign has made no contact with the RPOF regarding her candidacy,” Betta wrote.

Dockery’s campaign spokeswoman Rosemary Goudreau came back with a less-than-tepid rejoinder.

“The ‘People for Paula’ campaign welcomes the party’s support and looks forward to having a conversation with the chairman,” Goudreau wrote

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