Did the Republican Party of Florida just go from bad to worse? When Jim Greer stepped down as chairman amid charges he treated the party’s piggy bank the way the Duvaliers treated Haiti, activists in the GOP base shouted with glee. Greer was not just a guy with caviar tastes and an uncontrollable fear of President Obama’s mesmerizing power over schoolchildren. He was also BFFs with Charlie Crist, the dreaded HUGGER OF OBAMA. So, the qaida demanded that the party not just anoint another insider fat cat, but rather, that they listen to the voices of “the people” — and choose someone approved of by the grass roots. Problem: the fat cats, apparently including Jeb Bush, wanted State Sen. John Thrasher (Jebbie helped him win his Senate seat just last year), and so today, it’s Thrasher they got. Funny thing about that though … Thrasher (who was already interim chairman) doesn’t seem like much of an improvement, if by “improvement” you mean the appearance of better ethics. But don’t take it from me. Let’s see what the Republican Liberty Caucus, a real live grassroots Republican group that has been something like at war with the RPOF leadership after daring to oppose Greer’s profligate ways, had to say about Thrasher back in January:
Thrasher is a lobbyist, which is supposed to be a bonus for him in raising money for the party. That is the key point in his favor. And he has quite a history involving lobbying. In his first term in the Florida House of Representatives, Thrasher violated a state law that prohibited a legislator from lobbying a state board on behalf of a paying client. He received a public reprimand on the floor of the House in 1995. After he left the House, in 2001 – still within the two year period that legislators are forbidden by law from lobbying their colleagues after leaving office – Thrasher held a luncheon for legislators to lobby for one of his clients. He received a very light fine as a result.
… There are also several conflicts of interest for Thrasher as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.
First, Thrasher is a state senator, who is up for another election later this year. He would be incapable of being partial when that election came about. There are also laws prohibiting legislators from raising money, even for other campaigns or their own party, during the 60-day legislative sessions, which would prevent Thrasher from doing a key part of his job as chairman. As a legislator and lobbyist, Thrasher would still seek to influence other legislators, and his position as chairman would allow him to do that even more effectively.
Thrasher is also the chairman of the Florida Senate Ethics and Elections Committee (a role that already seems remarkably hypocritical for him). This committee is responsible for guiding election rules within the state of Florida. In this role, he would be able to influence the state’s election guidelines to give the Republican Party of Florida an amazing advantage.
Thrasher’s history, and the conflicts of interest he will be facing, make him a very poor choice for leading the Republican Party of Florida. He will also be a divisive personality, after running one of the most vicious campaigns in recent history.
Say … how do you get to be head of the Senate ethics committee when you’re a serial ethics violator? (sigh) Only in the Florida GOP … Florida Democrats, as you might imagine, are thrilled. They issued this statement this morning:
“Today, the Republican Party of Florida doubled down on the Republican culture of corruption in Tallahassee. Rather than electing someone to be the voice of Republican grassroots activists or clean up the RPOF mess, Republican insiders instead opted for ethics-lacking, big-spending John Thrasher, who has been convicted twice of breaking Florida’s ethics laws,” said Eric Jotkoff, Florida Democratic Party spokesman. “Florida’s Republican politicians might be celebrating, because they know Thrasher won’t shut down their RPOF slush fund, but by rejecting their grassroots supporters, Floridians of all stripes see that Florida’s Republican Party is open to only elite member of their smoky backroom club.”
… and were only too happy to provide further detail of Thrashers … er … issues:
In Thrasher’s first year as House Speaker, he became the first Speaker in the history of the state to violate state ethics laws. Furthermore, Thrasher’s chief of staff while House Speaker was embroiled in an ethics scandal surrounding his simultaneous public and private work. Even after leaving the state legislature, Thrasher continued to attract criticism for his ethically questionable lobbying activities.
And lest you think Thrasher is some sort of improvement over free spending Jim Greer:
While House Speaker, Thrasher was repeatedly criticized for his excessive spending habits. During that time, Thrasher paid his chief of staff more than double the governor’s salary for 11 months of work and his aide-de-camp $113,374 a year. When Thrasher refurnished his office in 1999, he spent thousands on a flight to Texas to look at a new desk. Also in 1999, he voted to expand lawmakers’ access to state benefits.
- In 1999 and 2000, Thrasher paid an aide who later became his chief of staff $255, 000 for 11 months of work. In 1999, McNamara was paid $127,500 over the six-month period when he served as a policy advisor to Thrasher. MacNamara signed a new five-month contract with Thrasher on July 8, 1999 agreeing to return in January 2000 as Thrasher’s chief of staff for $127,500.
- In a May 4, 2000 column, Ronald Littlepage, a Times-Union columnist, criticized Thrasher’s pay of his Chief of Staff calling it the “most mind-boggling thing” all session.
- In February 2001, the Tallahassee Bureau Chief of the Palm Beach Post, S.V. Date, criticized Thrasher’s pay of a staffer as “preposterous.” Date criticized the $113,874 Thrasher paid his aide-de-camp.
- In August 1999, Thrasher spent $3,100 of taxpayer money to fly to Texas to look at a desk. Thrasher traveled to Texas on a state plane with the House’s sergeant-at-arms, a clerk, the director of information technology and a project estimator.
That must have been some desk …
Meanwhile, it appears Bill McCollum has finally climbed out of his hidey hole and come to the realization that yes, Mr. Attorney General, this is the kind of thing that’s supposed to be investigated:
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McCOllum, under fire for not demanding more transparency of Florida GOP finances, on Saturday called for a full forensic audit of the party finances. He urged that the results be released publicly and that if any potential illegal activity surfaces that it be turned over to law enforcement.
But dude … wouldn’t that be, like … you???
“Credit cards should be a part of that. Everything should be,” McCollum said, referring to the party credit cards used by party officials and legislative leaders.
Thrasher said an internal audit has been underway for about four weeks, and he intends to have one of the major accounting firms start a more exhaustive forensic audit shortly. The party’s board will be the ones decided how to proceed, he stressed.
Well, as long as the party board is in charge of the investigation, rather than, say, the FDLE, I think we can all sleep better tonight. Lord help us, these are the people running Florida??? Would you trust a single one of them with $20???
Meanwhile, I wonder what Charlie Crist could do to shake up the process, and stick it to the Bushies who’ve been sticking it to him, while finally getting a little respect for actually doing his job … Hm … special prosecutor, perhaps? Nah, Charlie wants too desperately to be loved by the GOP to do a silly thing like that … especially since the most scintillating open question is whether any current or former Republican elected officials, let’s just pretend they’re named “Rubio” or “McCollum,” for instance, had any of those American Express cards issued in their name.
Meanwhile again, inquiring minds want to know: is Jim Greer getting severance pay?
And the Senate Democratic leader wants Thrasher off the ethics and reapportionment committees, after Thrasher reportedly referred to Florida’s Democrats as the “enemy”:
“While I wish I could congratulate John Thrasher on winning the Chairmanship of the Florida Republican Party, I am very concerned with his offensive language used this morning during a speech to Republican activists. In his comments, Sen. Thrasher referred to voters that register with the Democratic Party as his “enemy.” John Thrasher’s language is beyond the pale and offensive to the nearly 4.7 million voters who identify themselves as Florida Democrats.
“Unfortunately, John Thrasher is no longer fit to serve as Chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee nor serve on the Reapportionment Committee. Both positions require bipartisan cooperation, and John Thrasher has demonstrated that he is incapable of conducting himself in such a manner.
“On Monday, I will make a formal request to Senate President Jeff Atwater to remove Senator Thrasher from the Ethics and Elections and the Reapportionment Committees. President Atwater has expressed a desire that Senate business be conducted in the highest professional and ethical standards. As a result, I am confident that my request will be granted.” — State Sen. Democratic Leader Al Lawson, 2/20