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Crist: Fla. GOP should open credit card records

TALLAHASSEE — Republican Gov. Charlie Crist said Tuesday that the state GOP should release records of credit cards used by party leaders amid complaints of lavish spending, but Attorney General Bill McCollum, who wants Crist’s job, said that’s party — not public — business.

Crist, also a U.S. Senate candidate, said he agreed with state Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican vying with McCollum for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. She has urged that party officials “come clean” and make a full disclosure of its financial situation.

“I think that’s a good idea,” Crist said. “Transparency is always good.”

Crist quickly added “for the record” that he didn’t have a party credit card. That was a not-so-subtle reference to his Republican primary opponent in the Senate race, Marco Rubio, who did have a party credit card when he served as Florida House speaker.

McCollum, who has played a behind-the-scenes role in the matter, said GOP finances should be audited and state and local party leaders fully advised of what’s going on.

“The issue is whether there is transparency for the membership of the party,” McCollum said. “It’s not a public entity. … I don’t think it’s good for any political party to be having everything that’s done inside the party open to the press and the public.”

McCollum said that’s only his personal opinion and it’s up to the party to decide what to do.

State Republican Chairman Jim Greer has been a focal point of financial dispute. He’s agreed to step down Feb. 20, when party leaders also will meet to elect his replacement.

Greer, who was Crist’s choice as party leader, signed a secret contract with former executive director Delmar Johnson that helped boost Johnson’s compensation to $408,000, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The newspaper also has reported lavish spending Johnson charged to the party, including trips on private jets and $3,000 restaurant tabs. Its latest disclosure is that House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, transferred $655,000 from the party’s bank account to protect that money for House races.

Asked if he was disappointed, Crist said, “I don’t think anybody could be ecstatic about it.” He also acknowledged Johnson’s contract “doesn’t look good.”

As for Greer, Crist said, “Originally he did a great job, worked very hard and tried to do the very best he could.”

McCollum said he thought Johnson’s contract was outrageous but agreed with former party lawyer Richard Coates who told him it was legal.

In response to growing uneasiness about party spending last year, McCollum had helped Cannon and Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos R-Indialantic set up a separate bank account called Florida Victory 2010 to segregate campaign contributions from operating funds. It took two signatures to access the account — those of Greer and former House Speaker Allan Bense.