The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Guilty, your honor


OUR OPINION: Florida’s GOP should learn from Jim Greer’s guilty plea as it looks at ethics, campaign reforms

After almost three years of claiming he did nothing wrong, former Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer succinctly answered the question to a judge on Monday: “Guilty, your honor.”

Guilty of channeling more than $200,000 in GOP contributors’ money to a company he created, Victory Strategies. Guilty of theft and money laundering. His unexpected plea, which came just before a jury was to be selected for his trial, was a big relief for Republicans who had hoped to avoid having their dirty laundry exposed to all.

In truth, the plea is anticlimactic, coming years after several other officials have been chastised, beginning with former Gov. Charlie Crist, for defending the former party chief even as evidence mounted of his shenanigans involving a GOP credit card that key elected officials were supposed to use for political party expenses but often used on personal matters.

Several former legislators — including Sen. Marco Rubio and former U.S. House Rep. David Rivera, former Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos and ex-House Speaker Dean Cannon — all enjoyed the Republican Party’s credit card access or some other form of slippery arrangements through special funds.

Greer used the party’s American Express card on such things as limousine rides, sporting equipment, even luxury jet rentals while the state GOP scrambled for cash. Greer’s attorney claimed that associates of Mr. Haridopolos and Mr. Cannon offered him a secret “severance” to keep quiet. They have denied the accusation.

What’s clear is Republican officials won’t have to testify under oath about allegations of wrong-doing among party leaders, including a 2008 trip to the Bahamas that supposedly included cavorting with prostitutes. That was a claim by Delmar Johnson, who was granted immunity by prosecutors in exchange for testifying against his former boss, Greer.

Greer faces 3 1/2 years in prison and has promised restitution as part of his plea. The Republican Party of Florida was quick to deflect blame to the party’s turncoat, Mr. Crist, who switched to independent after Mr. Rubio’s political star grew in the 2010 U.S. Senate race. Mr. Crist is now a Democrat and is eying the governor’s office again.

“For the past three years, Jim Greer has tried to damage the reputation of the Republican Party and its leaders, but the truth is now known that Jim Greer broke the law, stole from . . . our donors, and then said and did everything he could to cover up and distract attention from his crimes,” state GOP executive director Mike Grissom said in a statement.

Public corruption is not the purview of one political party, but with the GOP in control of the Legislature and governor’s seat for more than a decade in Florida, actions speak louder than press statements.

The party did away with the credit cards after the Greer scandal, a good first step.

But when they had a chance to tackle transparency and ethics by strengthening the state’s Commission on Ethics to give it authority to investigate officials without waiting for a citizen to file a complaint, legislators failed the smell test. Other proposals to strengthen public corruption laws also went nowhere.

And the leadership funds, vetoed by then-Gov. Crist after the Greer controversy erupted, were revived by lawmakers in 2011 when they overturned the veto.

So much for lessons learned — until the next scandal.

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