How Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio Were Spared Embarrassment

Elahe Izadi
National Journal

Accusations of sexual impropriety; funneling campaign money through secret corporations; golf carts allegedly full of prostitutes--it was the spilling of damning Florida political secrets that wasn’t.

In a surprise move Monday, former Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer pleaded guilty to five criminal charges, averting what many in the state expected to be a long and drawn out airing of dirty laundry with big ripple effects, into the 2014 governor’s race. As the Tampa Bay Times' Adam Smith put it, "You could practically hear the gasp of relief from Florida Republican leaders Monday when [Greer] pleaded guilty to theft and money laundering charges, sparing them a sordid, two-week trial."

The implications of the trial would have been damaging. Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who's looking to regain the office in 2014 as a Democrat, handpicked Greer as his party chairman. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., might have been made to testify about his personal use of the GOP state party’s credit card while speaker of the state House. The last thing someone with national prospects wants is being dragged into such a sordid sideshow.

Here’s a brief look at some of the highly embarrassing details that could have emerged about Florida politics:

Money laundering galore

Greer ended up pleading guilty to four counts of theft and one count of money laundering, in connection with the diversion of $200,000 from party money to a corporation he created to handle the party’s fundraising.

But left unknown was how much Crist knew about that corporation. Greer has said that Crist and others high on the GOP food chain knew about it. In an affidavit, Crist said he didn’t know about the corporation.

Then there was the expected testimony detailing the party’s spending habits under Greer’s direction.The state party racked up $7 million in credit-card charges on everything from charted planes to resort hotels. Even Rubio, as speaker of the Statehouse, took heat for personal charges he made on a party-issued card.

The Bahamas shindig

A men’s-only, 2008 Bahamas getaway--which some said was a fundraiser, others described as a “thank-you” to supporters of a constitutional amendment expanding Florida’s homestead exemption--wasn’t tied directly to the criminal allegations against Greer. But sordid details of the trip were expected to emerge in his criminal trial.

Greer organized the trip of some 20 top Florida politicians and figures; former state Republican Party Executive Director Delmar Johnson has said he saw a golf cart full of women he assumed were prostitutes. Reporters have been clamoring for more details of the trip, which would have likely been laid out during the trial.

Personal vendettas, political in-fighting

It’s no secret that all was not rosy within the party, particularly once Rubio defeated Crist in the Republican Senate primary in 2010. Greer backed Crist, his once-close political ally, but Rubio’s upset victory caused both to fall out of favor with the GOP state party and with each other.

There have already been public displays of such infighting: allegations that Crist is gay and tried to kiss Greer; accusations of exhortation against Greer. The trial would have filled out more details, possibly dragging in a who’s-who of Florida politics. And that wouldn’t have boded well for Crist, now the Democrats' great hope to take back the Florida governorship, as he serious considers challenging Gov. Rick Scott--a Republican untainted by the scandal.