Crist Switch Puts GOP Spending Scandals At Center Of Florida Race

With the expected news that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is opting to run for Senate as an independent, the general election is set to have two major candidates — Crist and presumptive GOP nominee Marco Rubio — tarred by the wide-ranging spending scandal that is rocking the state Republican Party.

The scandal — in which GOP officials are accused of spending party money on lavish personal expenses along with other financial malfeasance — is tailor-made for attacks ads come the general election season, which is shaping up to be a three-way contest among Crist, Rubio, and likely Democratic nominee Rep. Kendrick Meek.The scandal has ensnared not only Crist and Rubio, but also several of their close political allies. It’s serious, too: the FBI and IRS are said to be investigating aspects of the state party’s spending. And stories of self-dealing and party insider shenanigans have the potential to damage campaign narratives crafted by both Crist, who will likely run as an independent man of the people, and Rubio, the insurgent Republican reformer.

Last week we noted the report that federal authorities are asking questions about possible improper co-mingling of funds between the state party, previously run by Crist ally Jim Greer, and Crist’s campaign.

Now, a new revelation in the Florida press has established more links between Crist and the state party’s woes.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, forensic auditors going over the party’s books have found that over two years, more than $300,000 was paid to close Crist friend Jay Burmer for communications consulting.

But, the Times reports, no one seems to know what exactly Burmer — who set up a company out of his home two weeks after Crist was sworn in in 2007 — did for the money:

GOP party officials — former and current — said they knew little about Burmer’s role, and it’s unclear whether he ever signed a contract with the party.

What is known is Burmer’s connection to Crist, who put Greer at the helm of the party in November 2006 when he took office. It’s not clear who authorized his contract, whether it was Greer or a request from Crist.

Greer, the former state party chair, is the man at the center of the scandal. He was ousted from his job in January and more recently accused by the GOP of possible “criminal activity” for allegedly awarding a lucrative party fundraising contract to a company he co-owns.

For his part, Rubio, who now has the GOP nomination virtually locked, has already been attacked by Crist during the truncated Republican primary for using a party-issued American Express card for a $134 haircut, repairs to his family minivan, and other expenses.

The IRS is reportedly looking at Rubio’s finances as part of an investigation into party spending.