- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The arrest Wednesday of former Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer on charges of stealing money from his own state party undermines the GOP’s image but also undercuts, at least initially, the renegade candidacy of Greer ally Charlie Crist, the Republican turned independent who is running for the U.S. Senate.

State law enforcement authorities arrested Mr. Greer, 47, at his home in Orlando on charges of money laundering, grand theft and fraud, saying he bilked the state party and GOP donors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Mr. Greer set up a company with his state party executive director that authorities say the two used to milk money from the party.

Mr. Greer also is said to have abused the party’s credit card.

Long under pressure from fellow Republicans to resign, Mr. Greer, 47, did so in February.

“The arrest has to have a negative effect on Gov. Crist, since Crist stood by Jim Greer to the bitter end, supporting him when people like me were trying to get him to resign because he was a liability to the party,” Rep. Jeff Miller told The Washington Times.

Democrats immediately used the announcement of the arrest to highlight Mr. Greer’s links to Mr. Crist and the Republican gubernatorial nomination hopeful, Bill McCollum, a former congressman who has won the endorsement of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Mr. McCollum is competing for the nomination with a relative unknown fellow Republican, Rick Scott.

“Today, with disgraced Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer’s arrest, Floridians see once again why a change of leadership is so desperately needed in Tallahassee,” said Democratic Party Chairman Karen Thurman.

“While Greer was Gov. Charlie Crist’s hand-picked Republican chairman, Bill McCollum was Jim Greer’s hand-picked gubernatorial candidate - a fact Bill McCollum was happy to tout at the time, but now is trying to conveniently forget,” Ms. Thurman said.

Mr. Crist, who Florida conservatives consider to be a Republican in name only, bolted the party in February when it became clear that “tea party” favorite Marco Rubio, a former Florida House speaker, was on the way to trouncing him in the GOP race for the U.S. Senate.

Now an independent candidate for the Senate, Mr. Crist, who has won support from the state teachers union, is running slightly ahead of Mr. Rubio and far ahead of Democrat Kendrick Meek, who also has the support of the state teachers union as well as the state AFL-CIO, in what is now a three-way general election contest.

Where the fallout from the arrest settles may depend less on the candidates’ skills at spinning the event and more on what the incarcerated Mr. Greer elects do.

“So far, Greer’s shenanigans haven’t had an impact on Republican numbers in state races,” former Florida GOP Chairman Al Cardenas told The Washington Times. “It remains to be seen what he says about Gov. Crist as he tries to work out a plea arrangement.”

Mr. Cardenas added: “So far, surprisingly, Gov. Crist has escaped the public’s wrath after single-handedly picking Greer to head the GOP and then defending him …. But Mr. Greer may yet do him in.”

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