TALLAHASSEE -- The man who blew the whistle on former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer is now crying foul on House Speaker Will Weatherford’s self-described campaign finance reform.
“It’s the same old money laundering and money hiding approach that’s been in place as long as I can remember in Florida politics,’’ said Allan Cox, former vice chairman of the Republican Party and the man who exposed Greer’s secret strategy to steal party funds.
Cox said he hoped Greer’s case would serve as a catalyst to end the tradition of legislators using party funds to skirt state law and live lavish lifestyles. Greer on Monday pleaded guilty to theft and money laundering charges for setting up a consulting firm and steering party money to his personal account.
A bill moving through the House attempts to crack down on political slush funds known as Committees of Continuous Existence, which legislators use to cut themselves checks and get around a 10-year-old law that bars legislators from accepting meals, travel and entertainment from lobbyists. The proposal bans the committees and imposes new disclosure rules on spending done by political committees and candidates. The legislation is a priority for Weatherford.
Absent from the bill, however, are any rules that would require the state’s two dominant political parties to disclose details of how they spend millions of dollars in contributions. Cox believes that will encourage legislative leaders to continue to use their party to finance dinners, travel and entertainment — and escape public scrutiny.
“If we really want to have sunshine for campaign finance reform, we should eliminate the massive loophole that allows the speaker [of the House] and president [of the Senate] to raise funds on behalf of the party, park them at the party and then dictate to the party how and where they will be spent,’’ Cox said. “This is the delicate issue that has been skirted for years and years and years and years.”
So how does this relate to Jim Greer?
When Greer started running out of money in the general state party account and faced a $1.3-million deficit, he dipped into the legislator-controlled accounts and tapped $3.6 million, said Cox, who served as RPOF budget chairman for eight years, including during Greer’s tenure.
When Cox and another RPOF committeeman started asking questions, they discovered Greer’s secret consulting contract to steer money to himself and his deputy, Delmar Johnson.
Cox believes that the legislators’ funds should never have existed in the first place. “If you want to get rid of CCEs, fine, but let’s take care of the real elephant in the room and close that loophole,’’ he said.
Under Florida law, political parties may accept unlimited sums from large donors and corporations, but may not earmark the money for either the House or Senate.
Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, however, defend the party practices, as do other former speakers of the House.
“First of all, the problem was Jim Greer was stealing money and he’s probably going to jail,’’ Weatherford said. “When it comes to the Republican Party there’s a difference between a fly-by-night CCE that’s created for a specific purpose — maybe it’s a TV ad or a mail piece — versus a Republican or a Democratic Party that has an elected body.’’