Wednesday, April 14, 2010

don't hate, we all gettin paid...,

Tampabay | Junior Florida Republican Party staffer had $1.3 million charged to party credit card. She was a 25-year-old junior staffer when the Florida Republican Party gave her an American Express card.

Over the next 2½ years, nearly $1.3 million in charges wound up on Melanie Phister's AmEx — $40,000 at a London hotel, and nearly $20,000 in plane tickets for indicted former House Speaker Ray Sansom, his wife and kids, for starters. Statements show thousands spent on jewelry, sporting goods and in one case $15,000 for what's listed as a month-long stay at a posh Miami Beach hotel, but which the party says was a forfeited deposit.

The credit card records, obtained by the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald, offer the latest behind-the-scenes look at extravagant and free-wheeling spending by the party touting fiscal restraint. Not only did certain elite legislative leaders have their own party credit cards to spend donors' money with little oversight, but Phister's records show these leaders also liberally used an underling's card — without her knowledge, she says.

"I did not have the sole discretion to initiate credit card spending," Phister said in an e-mail statement. "Over that period of time, there were multiple instances when the card was used to make purchases that I had no knowledge of, and I did not regularly review the monthly credit card statements which I understand were sent directly to the Party's accounting office."

Even after a series of embarrassing revelations over profligate credit card spending by the likes of Republican U.S. Senate frontrunner Marco Rubio, Sansom and incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon — and pending state and federal investigations of party finances — revelations of the huge charges on Phister's card had veteran GOP fundraisers apoplectic.

"Oh my God. I can't believe it,'' said Al Hoffman, a top fundraiser from Fort Myers, when told of the $1.258 million on Phister's card. "See, that's it. They have an underling do it all. There's no reason a young assistant should be ringing up charges like that."

Phister served as finance director for state House campaigns for 2½ years starting in mid 2006.

She was a Republican Party employee who mainly answered to Sansom, R-Destin, speaker-designate at the time and overseeing House campaign operations. The job involved planning fundraising events and often accompanying Sansom and other legislative leaders on fundraising and other political trips.

Sansom was indicted by a grand jury last year for inserting $6 million into the state budget for an airport building that a friend and GOP contributor, Jay Odom, wanted to use as an airplane hangar. That criminal investigation revealed that Sansom charged more than $170,000 on his party-issued credit card — everything from plane tickets for his family to clothes to electronics.

Turns out Sansom spent heavily on Phister's card as well.


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