TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The head of the Florida Democratic Party is contending that Republican Gov. Rick Scott's campaign broke the state's campaign finance laws by shifting money between accounts.
Election law complaints can be routine during an election year, but this one could be significant: If confirmed, it could result in a fine of as much as $82 million.
Allison Tant, who is the chairwoman of the state party, filed the complaint with the Florida Elections Commission late last week, naming both Scott and his political committee Let's Get to Work.
The complaint maintains that the campaign broke the law when the Scott campaign transferred nearly $27.4 million from one type of campaign account to another earlier this month.
"They have violated the law and the governor is supposed to uphold the law," Tant told The Associated Press.
Republican Party of Florida chairman Lenny Curry defended Scott's campaign organization.
"Let's Get to Work is confident that they have done everything according to the standards of Florida election law," Curry said in a statement.
Scott first set up Let's Get to Work back in 2010 as a way to help out his campaign for governor when he was challenging a Republican who had the backing of many GOP leaders.
It was set up as an "electioneering communication organization," which is allowed to take unlimited contributions but is subject to limits on how it can spend the money. These types of political organizations can run television ads as long as they don't use the words "vote for" or "vote against."
Scott kept Let's Get to Work intact after his victorious election in 2010, and since the summer of 2011 he has raised millions for the organization. The governor has accepted checks from a long list of prominent business and political heavyweights, including The Seminole Tribe of Florida, Florida Power & Light, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, and the Republican Governors Association.
On March 6, John French, the chairman of Let's Get to Work, told the state his organization was being disbanded as an electioneering communication organization. On the same day, a new political committee with the same name was formed, and the old organization gave a nearly $27.4 million check to the new one.
Under a new law passed last year by legislators, political committees have more flexibility over how they can spend money. For example, a committee can give money directly to political parties, while an electioneering communication organization cannot. This means that the new Let's Get to Work has more leeway on how it can spend its money.
Democrats maintain state law prohibits an electioneering communication organization from donating directly to a political committee.
French, however, says his action was legal because the first organization was being dissolved and was disposing of its money.
"This is unlawful and he needs to be called out on it," Tant said. "We think we have the law is on our side."
If the governor's campaign were found to have violated the law, it could be subject to a fine up to three times the amount of the contribution, or about $82 million.