Lawsuit seeks refund of GOP Crist

NAPLES – Two GOP donors want a judge to force Gov. Charlie Crist to refund their contributions after he bolted the party to run for U.S. Senate as an independent.

Attorney Thomas Grady, also a GOP state representative from Naples, asked Circuit Judge Jack Schoonover to declare the case a class action. It could include at least 2,000 Republicans who contributed $7.5 million before Crist announced in April that he was leaving the party.

“Even a gift is subject to return,” said Grady, who is representing donors Linda Morton of Naples, who gave $500, and former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas John Rood of Jacksonville, who contributed $4,800. “Gifts often have strings attached.”

In general, federal law allows a candidate to use contributions for any legal purpose – even giving it to a politician of another party – but Morton and Rood are hoping to prevail under state contract law.

Crist attorney Scott Weinstein said it’s impossible to define a class of contributors because people have many different reasons for giving money to politicians. He has submitted affidavits from some Crist donors who say they want no part of such a lawsuit and want Crist to use the money as he sees fit.

“How do they establish what everybody was thinking? They cannot,” Weinstein said. “The individual issues in this case are everything. It’s not just formulaic.

Schoonover said he plans to rule on the class action request by Thursday.

Grady cast the case in urgent terms, saying it could become irrelevant if no action is taken before the Nov. 2 election. Crist dropped out of the party after polls showed him badly trailing tea party favorite Marco Rubio in the GOP primary.

That’s when, in Grady’s view, he broke a contract with GOP contributors.

“They should have a choice,” Grady said. “It should be made by the people who contributed the money, instead of the politicians who accepted it.”

Now, Crist faces a three-way November matchup with Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek.

Schoonover denied a motion by Grady to freeze some of Crist’s campaign funds so there would be money available to pay refunds.

As of June 30, Crist had raised $12.49 million this election cycle.