TALLAHASSEE -- Embattled Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer is facing a coup from disgruntled party leaders who are angry that he took sides in the state's U.S. Senate primary and are accusing him of causing "irreparable harm" to the party's finances. In a formal "call" for a special meeting sent to Greer late Thursday, 50 executive-committee members accused the chairman of running up a $4million deficit because of "excessive spending" on everything from high-priced consultants to limo rides, cigars and private jets.
The disgruntled officials charged that Greer has mismanaged the party and demanded a closed-door session at next month's annual conference in Orlando to vote on his ouster. Among the signees were Volusia County GOP Chairman Joe Stich, Osceola committee members George Jackson and George Jackow, and U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville.
A budget document they released suggests big donors who were expected to contribute $5.5million in the 2009-10 election cycle have so far donated only about $1.4million, a big reason for the party's deficit. However, a GOP spokeswoman later suggested the document was out of date.
"It's a matter of protesting the flagrant spending practices we've been witnessing for the last three years," Cox said. "We have never had an operating deficit before."
Former GOP Chairman Tom Slade has called on Greer to resign, and Cox said another former chair, Carole Jean Jordan, was prepared to do the same.
"The field's had enough of this excessive spending," Cox said.
Greer has denied for months that he was spending lavishly. He publicly chopped up his GOP-issued American Express card at a party meeting in August, after reports that former House Speaker Ray Sansom had used his party AmEx card to take his family to Europe to meet up with Gov. Charlie Crist on an economic-development trip.
Greer, an Oviedo native installed as chairman in 2007 by Crist, also has been taking heat from disaffected conservatives since trying to establish Crist as the party's candidate for U.S. Senate. Former House Speaker Marco Rubio subsequently entered the race and has rallied conservatives to take on Crist and Greer.
"With all of the allegations that are swirling, this issue needs to be vetted," said one of the signees, Peter Feaman, chairman of the state caucus of committee members.
Republican National Committeeman Paul Senft, a Greer supporter from Polk County, conceded some large developers who had been counted on to write big checks have fallen on hard times and cut back their giving -- but he said that was because of the economy and had nothing to do with Greer.
"How do you combat hearsay when people have their mind made up and don't want to be confused by facts?" Senft said.
Greer did not return phone calls Thursday, but Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman Katie Gordon Betta denied the state party had a deficit and said there would be plenty of time for party members to meet with the chairman during the party's annual meeting Jan.8-9.
She said Cox was dismissed for leaking line-item budget information to the media, detailing party spending on items such as rent, computer software and direct-mail services.
"If there's trouble within a family, you don't air your dirty laundry out with everyone," Betta said. "This is the vice chairman of our party essentially handing our playbook over to the Democrats."
Last week, Greer survived a carefully choreographed confidence vote at a hastily arranged meeting of the party's executive board in Tallahassee. Critics complained Greer had stacked the deck for the 25-2 vote at the sparsely attended meeting.
"No one knew it was coming," Feaman said.
Palm Beach County GOP Chairman Sid Dinerstein said he was undecided on what to do with Greer.
"There's still time for everybody to keep their powder dry. Having said that, I think ultimately this will be determined by one person: Charlie Crist," he said.
Crist said Thursday that he doesn't see any evidence Greer mismanaged party funds.
"What do I think is motivating it?" he asked the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel's editorial board.
"Others would like to be chairman. This is a competitive world. I think it's that simple. [Greer] has done a good job. He's done more minority outreach for the Republican Party of Florida than I've seen. Works hard every day at it. I think he's done a good job."