When Charlie Crist first announced that he would bail out of the GOP primary to run as an independent, he promised that anyone wanting a refund of their campaign contributions would get one. Later, he reneged with a wink and a smile, telling a small crowd, “I’m going to keep it!” Now Crist will have to wink and smile at a judge as some of his donors have filed a lawsuit to block use of those funds and get their refunds (via Randy Scudder):
A Jacksonville businessman who once was one of Gov. Charlie Crist’s strongest allies in Northeast Florida is suing on behalf of Republican donors who feel cheated that Crist left the GOP without refunding campaign contributions.
John Rood, a former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas who runs The Vestcor Cos., is one of two lead plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit asking a judge to block Crist from using Republicans’ money to finance his U.S. Senate run.
The lawsuit was filed last week in Circuit Court in Collier County. Linda Morton, a donor from Naples who gave the Crist campaign $500 last December, is the other lead plaintiff. …
State Rep. Tom Grady, R-Naples, who was working on Crist’s Senate campaign until the party switch, is representing Rood and Morton.
The basic complaint: Republican donors are upset their money is being used to fund a non-Republican campaign – especially one that will be filtering votes away from another Republican candidate.
The lawsuit could be a big problem for Crist. At the end of March, the last FEC reporting period, the campaign had $7.6 million on hand. If the court rules that Crist owes his contributors refunds — and enough of them demand it — Crist could find his campaign bankrupt very quickly.
Of course, this proves that Crist’s argument that he represented some sort of independence from the party establishment invalid. He had raised far more money than Marco Rubio at the point where he switched to independent; in fact, he had outraised Rubio and Kendrick Meek put together, thanks to party insiders like Rood and Morton. Crist had appointed Rood to the Florida Board of Governors and to the state party as its finance chair in return for years of fundraising Rood did for Crist.
Does Florida election law give donors the right to ask for refunds? We’ll soon see, but Crist’s public promise to provide them may tip the scales in court if it’s an arguable point. His former allies may get their money back, and Crist may soon find out what it’s like to really be on his own.