Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What "L'affaire de Greer" is really about

I've decided to start referring to the whole Jim Greer controversy as "L'affaire de Greer," in homage to "l'affaire du collier," also known as "The Affair of the Necklace," which involved Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in the lead up to the French Revolution. Both scandals involve political intrigue, extravagant spending, public outrage, and the betrayal of former allies.

Watergate was much more than a burglary ("It's not the crime, it's the coverup"), and likewise, l'affaire de Greer is about so much more than just the excessive spending. While I'll concede the point to Greer that you cannot give a big-time donor some cheese and crackers and then ask them for a five-digit check, the spending was absolutely ridiculous and weakened the party by undermining donors' trust and depleting the coffers as we approached a crucial election. The frequent use of private planes and limo services was especially inexcusable.

But, frankly, overspending on a company card is not a unique problem. Most people's spending habits are different when they are spending their own money versus being able to write off a meal or travel to their employer. Greer took it to an extreme, but what sets this scandal apart, and what I believe deserves the most attention and investigation, is the usurpation of RPOF resources and power to interfere in primaries - most egregiously, the 2010 Senate race. 

Greer did everything within his power to pave the way for Charlie Crist to be elected to the United States Senate, including actions that were in contravention of RPOF rules and also potentially in violation of federal election laws.

The St. Petersburg Times has obtained internal e-mails from the Crist campaign, and they reveal a level of involvement and interference completely inappropriate for a party chairman:
St. Petersburg Times | Jim Greer trial may expose Florida Republican party's inner workings
As the above article notes, Greer "assumed the role of de facto Crist campaign manager," despite federal campaign finance laws that prohibit using state party resources in federal campaigns, and he was heavily involved in the campaign's strategic planning, fundraising efforts, and communications, even writing scripts for some of Crist's ads, and leading negative campaigning efforts against Marco Rubio. Greer was constantly emailing back and forth with Crist's consultants and campaign staffers and regularly holding campaign planning meetings. Greer even hired an opposition researcher at one point, "presumably to dig up information about Rubio."

Also noteworthy from the St. Pete Times article is proof that George LeMieux had received emails from Greer giving instructions or discussing strategy for Crist's campaign, meaning that LeMieux was fully aware of Greer's involvement. Unfortunately, charges of political cronyism would become a common occurrence with LeMieux.

As someone who was a supporter of Marco Rubio from day one, I can tell you that we knew we were going against what the Chairman of our own party wanted. I don't have any particularly lurid tales to tell, no one left a horse's head in my bed or otherwise directly threatened me, but I did have a number of people ask why I was backing Rubio, why I was going against the Governor, "Don't you want a political career in this state?" etc. At a fundraiser I hosted in July 2009, we had several people who supported Rubio and were willing to attend, but would not allow us to list their names on the host committee and said they were holding off on donating until after the next legislative session was over. Many people were clearly intimidated by the prospect of going up against a sitting Governor and the leadership of RPOF.

Think about it: to get elected to the Senate, Rubio had to defeat not only a Democratic opponent, but also his own party's Chairman and top management and consultants. As Greer's 2012 criminal trial date continues to approach, we are seeing a lot of finger pointing from everyone involved (see here, here, here, and here). 

We don't yet know the whole story, but one thing we can say for certain is that Greer used his RPOF connections to provide fundraising and strategic advantages to Crist and diverted time and energy he was supposed to be using for the good of the party instead to the service of his friend. The leadership of RPOF and the Republican Executive Committees for each county are supposed to be working to get Republicans elected, not engaging in backroom deals to help their friends. LeMieux's awareness and apparent acquiescence to Greer's schemes are especially troubling aspects of this whole saga.

Florida Republicans deserve answers about what really happened at RPOF under Greer's management, and they deserve leaders who respect the party rules and the election laws enough not to attempt to subvert them for their own selfish aims.

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