The Republican Party of Florida has found itself at the center of controversy after records revealed two prominent members were abusing funds for personal spending.
Chairman Jim Greer used party funds for travel and entertainment and signed a secret contract with former executive director Delmar Johnson that gave Johnson 10 percent commission on every major donation to the state GOP, according a report in the St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday.
Records obtained by the Times show Johnson made $260,000 through the secret contract on top of his $103,000 salary and another $42,000 for expenses. He also used his party credit card to charter a $15,000 jet to a U.S. Senate ceremony and spent another $1,800 for in-flight catering.
This news could not come at a worse time for Florida Republicans with the 2010 election right around the corner and the recent layoffs of party employees because of diminished fundraising, according to the Times. Last week, the party reported a debt of $466,978.
In light of this fiasco, full disclosure is the best option for the state GOP. Complete transparency is the only way to regain voter confidence. Revealing its finances may be embarrassing, but it will help the party in the long run.
Gov. Charlie Crist agreed with this, calling for full financial disclosure Tuesday. “I think that’s a good idea,” he said to The Associate Press. “Transparency is always good.”
Though Crist may be trying to distance himself from the controversy – as he’s running for U.S. Senate – he’s still making the right point. But not everyone in the GOP agrees. Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is vying to replace Crist as governor, favored an internal audit.
“The issue is whether there is transparency for the membership of the party,” McCollum said to the AP. “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.”
According to the Times, McCollum received a copy of the secret contract in January and briefed House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon and Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos.
Full disclosure has the potential to harm a lot of prominent Republicans, but handling the issue internally will seem like a cover-up. This mentality of secrecy can lead to rampant corruption.
The Republican Party is a constant advocate for fiscal responsibility, so what better way can it stand by its platform than making its budget an example for constituents?
If the GOP has any hope of recovering some of its voter confidence in time for the 2010 elections, it needs to be completely honest and air out all harmful secrets.