- The Washington Times - Friday, February 26, 2010

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. | Someone very close to Gov. Charlie Crist clearly was trying to damage Marco Rubio’s Senate campaign by leaking Republican Party American Express records that showed some personal expenses among Mr. Rubio’s legitimate party charges.

But the plan may backfire.

Republican voters will decide whether an expensive haircut, some groceries, a wine store purchase and other charges put on the party card are worse than leaking confidential party records in a political attack on another Republican.

“In my mind, disloyalty of leaking documents to the press of a selected political opponent is reprehensible,” said David Johnson, a Tallahassee-based Republican political consultant who once served as the party’s executive director.

Mr. Johnson added that the leaked records themselves aren’t very damaging to Mr. Rubio. The party charges don’t appear extravagant and Mr. Rubio said he paid more than $16,000 directly to American Express to cover personal charges.

“If this is it, if this is all they’ve got, I don’t think it’s going very far. A $100 haircut? A trip to Publix [supermarket]? I don’t think it sticks,” Mr. Johnson said. “Marco’s got some momentum - it’s clear, it’s obvious, it’s national - and the goal of this is to try to jam a stick in the spokes of the wheel. The voters will decide whether it’s a stick in the spokes or a playing card that makes noises.”

Mr. Rubio, a former House speaker, made $110,000 in party charges over 25 months while traveling the state to help Republican candidates, raise money for the party and to speak at events hosted by county Republican organizations.

The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times were given a copy of the statements. In stories published Thursday, the newspapers detailed several expenses Mr. Rubio made on the card. Among those the newspapers said were paid by the party and not Mr. Rubio are $53.49 at a Winn-Dixie supermarket, $765 for computer supplies, $25.76 for lumber supplies, $412 at a music store and $68.33 from a wine store near Mr. Rubio’s home.

But the story left unanswered who leaked the documents and why only 25 months’ worth were released when Mr. Rubio had a party card for nearly four years. A very small number of people had access to the statements, including recently departed Chairman Jim Greer and his executive director, Delmar Johnson. Both are Crist allies. Republican activists are angry that confidential party information was leaked, particularly as the party begins an audit to review spending under Mr. Greer’s leadership in order to rebound from stories of lavish spending on travel, meals and entertaining.

Mr. Crist, however, was not upset and said there should be no repercussions for the person who leaked the credit card statements.

“Listen, knowledge is good, and I don’t know where it came from. It really doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that the people have a right to know how people spend their money, how they comport themselves, how they conduct themselves before they put themselves up for public office. That’s happened to the speaker. He apparently doesn’t like it. That’s too bad. Welcome to the NFL,” Mr. Crist said.

By contrast, Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is running for Mr. Crist’s seat, has said it should be up to the party to decide what financial information is made public after it conducts an audit.

Mr. Crist likes to point out that he never had a party card, but he was often at dinners and events with people who do, including Mr. Greer and Delmar Johnson, so there is no way of knowing what was purchased for him.

“The governor is the governor. He has people who do that,” said David Johnson, the political strategist. “When you have other people paying for it on their card, that’s just convenient.”

The Rubio campaign pointed out that his $110,000 party charges over 25 months are less than what Delmar Johnson charged in one month.

Bill Bunting, a Pasco County Republican activist who worked to help get Mr. Crist elected, was upset by the leak.

“This can backfire on Crist. I was outraged. It’s the dirty tricks campaign,” said Mr. Bunting, who is now supporting Mr. Rubio. “This was the cheapest of cheap shots.”

And a lot of other Republicans will see it the same way, said political scientist Darryl Paulson, who is a Republican.

“Most of the people who are going to be voting in the Republican primary are going to look at this as a desperate attempt by the Crist campaign,” Mr. Paulson said. “It could fly back in the face of Gov. Crist if people object to the release of private personal information.”

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