Crist refuses to refund campaign donations, Rubio camp outraged

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced today that he will not refund donations he received from Republican voters before he left the GOP in his bid for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat.

“Our position is that people donated to a good cause and we intend to spend it on a good cause,” Michelle Todd, an adviser to the Crist campaign, said.

The announcement contradicts statements the Crist campaign has made to several newspapers, including the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times. In both publications, the campaign said it would issue “pro-rated refunds” because Crist had already spent some of the money.

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough, Crist said:

I’ll probably give it back to them. It’s not that big a deal. What really matters is that we’re able to communicate our message. And being able to talk to you today gives me that opportunity, but there’ll be other opportunities as well. And I’m not afraid of that. I really am not.

Now, though, Crist said he’s not giving anything back. GOP candidate Marco Rubio’s campaign is outraged.

“Republicans in Florida have written letters to the Crist campaign asking for their donations back,” Alex Burgos, spokesperson for Rubio’s campaign, said. “Originally, he was going to give them back now his campaign is quoted as saying it won’t.”

Crist is not legally obligated to refund the donations but Rubio’s campaign says it’s only fair if he does. Crist received most of those donations before there were even whispers about him leaving the GOP.

Crist has also, over the course of the 2009 fiscal year and through the first quarter of this fiscal year, accepted lobbyist donations in excess of $320,000. The biggest donations came from a group that represents several political organizations, The Fiorentino Group.

The Fiorentino Group, based in Ponte Vedra, Fla., donated a total of $173,700 to Crist’s campaign. Other lobbyist organizations include Tew Cardenas, LLP, Capital Strategies and BG&R group.

Tew Cardenas donated $71,074, Capital Strategies donated $50,700 and BG&R Group donated $25,450.

“The Crist campaign has no comment on why someone donated to the campaign,” Todd said in reference to the lobbyist donations.

The Fiorentino Group did not return phone calls for comment.

Rubio’s campaign condemns Crist for seeking out and accepting the large lobbyist donations, saying it has gotten most of its donations from individual donors.

“From the very start, Charlie Crist has been fueled by lobbyists and special interest groups that have put business ahead of the State of Florida,” Burgos said. “Marco’s support has come from the grassroots and Republicans across Florida and the country who recognize the stakes in this race.”

Burgos said Rubio’s donations have come primarily from individuals, not businesses. In the last fiscal fundraising quarter, Burgos said Rubio’s campaign had more than 50,000 individual donors.

“Online fundraising has been a big part of our strategy,” Burgos said. “[We are targeting] the small-dollar donor who can give repeatedly and consistently, and to date, has averaged less than $100.”

For the two weeks leading up to the April 30 U.S. Senate candidate deadline, Rubio’s campaign ran fundraising drive, “Flip The Switch,” aimed at gathering 2,400 new donors. Burgos said the fundraiser, which featured a photo of President Obama with Crist, hit its goal.

Crist’s GOP departure has helped Rubio’s campaign in different ways, as well.

“It [Crist leaving the party] has allowed Republicans to rally around Marco Rubio,” Burgos said. “It has encouraged those who were not committed or those who were committed to other candidates to get behind Marco. It has been a positive boon to the campaign and our grassroots donor base has grown.”