Florida GOP scandal could haunt Crist

Holly Bailey
July 2, 2010

Will a GOP fund-raising scandal in Florida hurt Gov. Charlie Crist’s bid for Senate?

On Thursday, a Florida judge set an Oct. 18 trial date for former state GOP chairman Jim Greer, who was indicted last month on charges he stole at least $100,000 from the party. Greer was a close friend and ally to Crist. But the governor--who has switched from the GOP to an independent party affiliation for his Senate run--has distanced himself from the embattled Republican and denied any knowledge of the former chairman’s alleged scheme. Still, a trial date coming just weeks before Election Day won't help out the Crist campaign, since it means a steady stream of bad headlines for the Senate hopeful, who may also be called to testify.

Greer is accused of setting up a phony company, Victory Strategies, that he, in his capacity as the party’s chairman, hired to do fund-raising on behalf of the GOP. The company took a cut of all money raised by the state party—a scheme investigators allege was  money laundering and fraud. Greer’s attorney has said Crist knew about the arrangement and even signed off on it—an allegation the governor denied in affidavit filed with state investigators in May.

But for all these charges and countercharges, Crist’s close relationship with Greer could be most politically damaging factor in the scandal. In another affidavit filed in the case, Beth Kigel, a lobbyist and former GOP fundraiser, says Greer and Crist once took a “men’s only” fund-raising trip to the Bahamas--and that according to what she'd heard, “women were involved and paid.”

Yesterday, Crist confirmed the getaway, which he said raised money for a campaign he led to change state laws on property taxes. He called Kigel’s allegations “absurdedly false”--or, as the Miami Herald put it: “Crist says no hookers on Bahamas trip.” That’s the kind of headline no political candidate wants in the middle of a tough election.

The bigger problem for Crist is that he’s repositioned himself—successfully, according to polls—as a moderate, straight-talking independent who would not be a slave to either political party. That’s given him traction not just with swing voters, but also with moderate Republicans and Democrats. The Greer case threatens to undermine that image and remind voters of just how partisan Crist has been, and could be.

--Holly Bailey is a senior politics writer for Yahoo! News