The new leader of Florida's Republican party vowed Friday to end the lavish spending of the last three years that has become a political issue in a U.S. Senate race and says the party will release credit card statements in a bid for transparency.
State Sen. John Thrasher, who became chairman after Jim Greer resigned over criticism of the spending, said he will tighten his belt, too. He plans to fly on Southwest Airlines and stay in Holiday Inns, unlike the private planes and Ritz-Carltons Greer used.
"I don't intend to travel outside the state unless it's absolutely necessary, I never intend to travel by private plane," Thrasher said. "It will be in my car or whatever airline gets me to wherever I need to go in the state of Florida."
The party's executive board met Friday to review statements from credit card held by party officials in the three years Greer was chairman, amid reports he spent lavishly on hotels, meals, limousine services and air travel. Thrasher said they voted unanimously to release the statements within the next two weeks in an effort to put the bad publicity behind them.
"There's been some excesses in some areas — nobody is saying that anybody did anything wrong — but clearly the culture of the party has changed, we've turned a new page and those kinds of activities are behind us and we're going to move ahead," he said.
Thrasher also said no individuals will be issued cards, though the party will retain one for corporate expenses. His own expenses will be reviewed by an auditing board before he's reimbursed.
He said Greer's credit card statements were never closely scrutinized because Greer wouldn't let them be scrutinized.
"That's changed," he said.
The executive board was given copies of Greer's American Express statements, which included charges at expensive hotels in places like Las Vegas, New York, the Florida Keys and Beverly Hills, Calif. There are scores of big restaurant tabs at fancy steakhouses and thousands of dollars for chauffeured sedans.
Party donors and officials complained for months about Greer, who was Gov. Charlie Crist's hand-picked chairman, but Crist defended him until the day he resigned.
Greer is now under criminal investigation after an audit indicated he and his executive director, Delmar Johnson, formed a corporation and then signed a secret contract to funnel money to the corporation. The IRS and FBI are also investigating spending at the party.
Beyond the embarrassment of Greer's spending, the issue has come into play in the Florida Senate race, where Crist is being challenged by former House Speaker Marco Rubio. Rubio had a party card for four years until leaving office in 2008. Records from two of those years were leaked to The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times.
The statements revealed Rubio used his party card for personal charges. While Rubio says he paid for those expenses at the time, there's evidence that some personal expenses weren't repaid.
Rubio this week also reimbursed the state GOP $2,417 for double-billed flights he blamed on an accounting error.
The meeting to discuss cracking down on luxe accommodations was held at what's considered the only upscale hotel in Tallahassee, the Hotel Duval.
A party spokeswoman, through, quickly made sure reporters knew that it wasn't a case of old habits dying hard: The meeting room cost $400 and was the cheapest of five hotels the party called when looking for space, she said.
Thrasher noted that "upscale" in Tallahassee has a different meaning than in places like Las Vegas and Beverly Hills.
"Tallahassee upscale hotel — that's kind of an oxymoron, I think, isn't it?" he said.
Eds: CORRECTS former GOP leader's name to Jim Greer, not John.
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