POLITICS

Rick Scott Campaign Accused Of Violating Campaign Finance Laws

03/18/2014 11:16 am ET | Updated Mar 18, 2014

Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) reelection campaign could be fined as much as $82 million if found guilty of an accusation of campaign finance violations.

State Democratic Party chair Allison Tant filed a complaint with the Florida Elections Committee on Monday, alleging Scott's campaign illegally transferred nearly $27.4 million from the governor's longstanding but now-shuttered electioneering communication organization, called "Let's Get To Work," to a newly formed political committee of the same name.

Scott, who opened the original Let's Get To Work while running for governor in 2010, continued fundraising for it even after taking office; it was closed out earlier this month in favor of the committee. At heart of the allegations from Democrats is the difference between how electioneering communication organizations and committees are allowed to operate. The Associated Press' Gary Fineout reports:

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.

[Let's Get To Work chairman John] French, however, says his action was legal because the first organization was being dissolved and was disposing of its money.

Tant disagrees.

"This is unlawful and he needs to be called out on it," Tant said. "We think we have the law is on our side."

It is the second time in two weeks French has had to defend the financial operations of Let's Get To Work. Last week, questions were raised about a $500,000 donation from sugar giant Florida Crystals that was reported by Let's Get To Work in 2013 but was later missing from state records. French said "there was never a $500,000 check," and both he and a spokesman for Florida Crystals called the mystery an "accounting error."

Scott, meanwhile, is outpacing gubernatorial opponent Charlie Crist (D) in the fundraising department but trailing Crist, a former governor of Florida, in polls.

UPDATE: 12:00 p.m. -- Two Democratic state elections experts took issue with French's argument in interviews with The Huffington Post on Tuesday. French has said the transfer of funds was legal because the electioneering communications organization had been terminated and was just disbursing its money.

Mark Herron, an elections lawyer, dismissed French's defense. "I get it. I understand it. It's the subterfuge that they went through to transfer the money illegally. It's allowing them to do indirectly which they can't do directly," Herron said.

Ron Meyer, another expert on state campaign finance laws, told HuffPost, "If it's not blatantly illegal, it certainly violates the spirit of the law."

While Let's Get to Work can no longer coordinate independent expenditures with Scott's campaign, Meyer said the group can in theory provide unlimited funds to the state Republican party and request the money be spent in a certain way -- on advertising or to hire staff, for example.

"They just simply cannot coordinate a message that expressly advocates the election of Rick Scott or the defeat of one of his opponents," Meyer said. "It's all a game."

Andrew Perez contributed reporting.

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