Crist claimed to reporters today that he has only a passing acquaintance with Rothstein. "Well, he had supported me like he did to many others," Crist said. "And that's about the extent of it."
But that's not the way Rothstein -- and many news reports over the years -- describe their relationship.
A self-described "Charlie Crist Republican," Rothstein reportedly met Crist in the 1990s, and Crist introduced him to Republican politics in Florida. Rothstein began to raise money for Crist. In a 2008 profile of Rothstein the Broward Beat reported on the relationship between the two men:
Crist helped put him on the map in politics. Made him a go-to person. Made him somebody.
Others says they have been in the room when Crist calls Rothstein. The conversation sounds like two old friends, trading ideas and small talk.
That fits with what GOP operative and onetime Rothstein business partner Roger Stone told TPMmuckraker yesterday: that Crist regularly hit up Rothstein for donations to the state GOP and favorite candidates. Rothstein was so loyal to Crist that he and Stone had a falling out over criticism of Crist on The Stone Zone blog, for which Rothstein's firm was providing Web hosting.
Crist and his then-fiancÃ©e even attended Rothstein's wedding last year at the Versace mansion in Miami Beach. In a 2008 interview, Rothstein described Crist as one of his "closest friends." And a 2009 newspaper editorial described Rothstein as "a generous GOP donor who considers Crist a close personal pal" (emphasis ours).
Then, of course, there's the money trail. Rothstein, business associates, and his firm donated at least $675,000 for Crist's campaign for governor in 2006 and $80,000 for his Senate campaign, the Palm Beach Post reports. On June 30 of this year, Rothstein and his wife and parents gave a total of $19,200 to the Senate campaign, according to finance records. He and the firm gave $525,000 to the state GOP and a lesser amount to the state Democratic party.
Rothstein's fundraising role wasn't limited to personal donations. He held a fundraiser for Crist at his home during the '06 race. And that same year Rothstein "broke out his Rolodex" to drum up turnout for a $500-per-head Crist fundraiser at Donald Trump's estate in West Palm Beach, Stone told the Broward-Palm Beach New Times.
Indicted in September for an alleged fraudulent fund-raising and lobbying scheme, ophthalmologist Alan Mendelsohn is another well-connected Florida political player with close ties to Crist.
He allegedly created phony lobbying organizations which raised big dollars from industry sources. Mendelsohn, who has plead not guilty, allegedly diverted over $600,000 of that money for his personal use, including for credit card bills and SAT prep fees for his kids. And he falsely told the FBI that he had used his influence with Crist -- attorney general during the period in question -- to quash a probe into a Florida insurance company.
What are his ties to Crist? He hosted a doctors' fundraiser at his home in 2006 that netted over $100,000 for Crist's gubernatorial campaign. And he served on the transition team after Crist won the election.
Among other things, the letter states: "I have known Benjamin and his family for several years and know that Benjamin's affiliation with the University of Florida will mutually enhance the reputation of both Benjamin and the Medical Program."
You may remember Harry Sargeant, the GOP bundler and defense contractor who briefly made headlines in the presidential election last year.
A massive contract won by Sargeant's company to deliver fuel to the U.S. military in Iraq via Jordan was the subject of an investigation for possible overcharging by Rep. Henry Waxman's oversight committee in 2008. A lawsuit from another firm has also alleged a "bribery scheme" by Sargeant to pay off the Jordanians to keep other companies out.
The John McCain campaign in August 2008 was forced to return $50,000 bundled through Sargeant after media outlets reported that the money came from sketchy first-time donors and were solicited by a business partner of Sargeant who is a foreign national. And in February, that business partner, a Jordanian named Ala'a al-Ali, was indicted for allegedly funneling illegal contributions to the McCain and other presidential campaigns, as well as to Crist. Sargeant appeared in the indictment but was not charged with a crime.
Despite the national cameo, Sargeant's real bailiwick was Florida GOP politics, where his close friend and former Florida State fraternity brother -- Crist -- was top dog. Sargeant was a big contributor to state Republicans and was the finance chair for the state party until he stepped down amid scandal in January. He loaned a corporate jet to Crist's 2006 campaign, and, according to the Miami Herald, he and his family gave $30,000 to Crist over 12 years.
Finally, Sargeant helped arrange a side trip to Jordan when Crist visited Israel in 2007. The Palm Beach Post reported at the time (via Nexis):
The golden Dome of the Rock dominated the landscape of the Old City as Crist and the others crowded around the windows. As the flight approached the Dead Sea, the Israeli escort peeled away, leaving the Jordanian chopper to cross over the nearly dry Jordan River and northeast toward Abdullah's compound on the outskirts of Amman.
Sargeant, who suggested and helped arrange the visit, met Crist at the landing pad. A waiting fleet of silver Mercedes and BMW cars took the group along a forest-lined road through the compound to Abdullah's home.
Asked by reporters today if any of the scandals would affect the 2010 race, Crist said it would not. "Because I've done nothing wrong."