Florida contenders dominate ‘crooked candidate’ list

Chris Moody Chris Moody is a reporter for The Daily Caller.
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Whether it’s “dimpled chads,” sexually explicit instant messages from former Rep. Mark Foley, or casinos tied to lobbyist Jack Abrahamoff, Florida is no stranger to political tumult. A report from the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is making the case that 2010 won’t be the state’s year for redemption.

The organization has compiled a list of what its members have decided are the most “crooked candidates” running for office in November. Candidates hailing from the Sunshine State dominate the group, filling nearly half of the slots. CREW recently added Democratic Senate candidate Jeff Greene, making it so that every major candidate running for the Florida Senate now makes the cut. Also included: Republican Marco Rubio, Democrat Kendrick Meek and independent Charlie Crist.

CREW, which has self-identified itself as progressive but insists that in the survey they do not consider party affiliation “at all,” compiled the list “to find those candidates who have engaged in criminal or unethical conduct.” The list, which has grown to 12 candidates since they added Greene, includes eight Republicans, three Democrats and one independent. The organization has compiled lists of what they consider to be the “most corrupt” in office since 2005, but this is the first time they have launched a project for candidates.

The Daily Caller reached out to political experts on the ground in Florida who are following the 2010 horse races  and asked them to discuss why CREW would include so many of their home candidates. We received a mixture of explanations for what makes Florida such an alleged hotbed of political scandal. Most analysts said that it was only natural that there would be more dirt openly available to the public since the Florida races were so high profile.

“The stakes are high in Florida,” said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida. “This is just a rich political environment for finding out something extremely unflattering about someone running for office.”

According the the Federal Elections Commission, the top Senate contenders have raised more than $37 million for their campaigns, making it the most expensive Senate race in the nation — money that can be used to expose the opposition.

Florida is the fourth-largest state in the country and hosts 10 media markets, fueling a stronger need for more cash to get the word out to constituents. Never quite red and never quite blue, it also has a history of making a regular appearance on the national stage by playing an almost predictable role in presidential races. It is for that reason, the experts said, that an organization in the Beltway had its eye on its Senate candidates more so than other states that have less impact.

“I honestly think these organizations on the outside are looking to the states that have competitive races,” said Daniel Smith, professor of political science at the University of Florida. But it’s true, he admitted, “we’re a state of ethically challenged elected officials.”
And then there is the entire issue of Tallahassee, the state capitol where many of the candidates cut their teeth. According to insiders, the place has been known for a culture of closed-door deals and a good old boy status structure.

“There was this culture in Tallahassee that legislators were going to enjoy perks,” said Martin Sweet, a legal analyst and Florida Atlantic University political science professor. “You have this weird culture of New York sleaze in South Florida and the old gentlemen’s crowd in northern parts of Florida. And then they all go meet in Tallahassee.”

Despite the pontificating from Floridian political experts, a CREW spokesman refused to speculate on why Florida is receiving such a drubbing in their ongoing report.

“It just so happened that all the Florida Senate candidates had something wrong with them,” said CREW spokesman Peter Bjork. “It’s never really been as concentrated, but I don’t think it has anything to do with Florida.”

As for the candidates who were mentioned in the CREW report, a spokesman for the Rubio campaign cited the group’s political slant as a possible reason for Rubio’s inclusion. Other campaigns declined to comment or did not respond to inquiries from TheDC on Tuesday.

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