- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida Republicans are saying former Gov. Charlie Crist and his law firm broke the state’s campaign finance laws.

The executive director of the Republican Party of Florida filed a complaint Tuesday with the state elections commission.

The complaint contends Crist got an illegal campaign contribution because his name and face were on billboards put up by the Morgan & Morgan law firm. Crist joined the firm after losing his bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010.

The prominent law firm began including Crist on billboards that urged people to wear their seat belt or to not text while driving. The billboards were placed on well-traveled roads such as Interstate 75 and the Florida Turnpike.

State law limits how much a person, or corporation, can donate directly to a campaign. The current limit is $3,000 for a statewide race. The complaint filed with the Florida Elections Commission says the amount of help exceeded that amount. If it were confirmed the penalty could be three times the amount of the donation.

Additionally, the complaint contends Crist broke the law because he did not report the billboards as a donation.

“I guess it should be no surprise that trial lawyer Charlie Crist is being helped by his trial lawyer partners at Morgan and Morgan, but his campaign’s failure to report their help is a violation of the law,” said Juston Johnson in a statement.

But Mark Herron, a Tallahassee attorney working with the Crist campaign, said there was no violation of law.

“This is a frivolous complaint that was filed just to aggravate the campaign,” Herron said.

Herron added that the billboards were not a contribution to Crist’s campaign and instead served a “legitimate business purpose” for Morgan & Morgan.

Crist’s face and name in the billboards preceded his entry into the governor’s race last November. But the party complaint notes that the billboards remained up until early 2014.

John Morgan, founder of the firm, said in an email response that he ordered the billboards down months ago and that some were left up by the billboard companies. He said his firm “paid nothing for them.”

“I am glad the Republican Party of Florida sees our firm’s name as a positive in Florida,” Morgan said. “We take this as a compliment.”

The complaint against Crist came one day after the head of the Florida Democratic Party filed her own complaint alleging that Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign broke campaign finance laws by shifting money between accounts. Scott’s campaign transferred nearly $27.4 million from one type of campaign account to another earlier this month.

Scott’s campaign shifted the money from one type of campaign account to another that has more leeway on how the money can be spent.

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