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Big donors face question: Demand refund from Charlie Crist?

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Charlie Crist‘s decision to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent has left a bunch of big-name contributors with a decision to make: Do they follow the angry dictate of furious Republican Party officials and demand their money back? Or not?

For many longtime Crist supporters — some of whom go back to his first statewide campaign in 1998 — it’s a tough call. Consider Ben Hill Griffin III of the big Florida citrus and political family.

“Right now I’m trying to figure out where he’s standing,” said Griffin, who’s mulling whether he wants back the $2,400 he gave the Crist campaign last year. “When you figure that out, you let me know, and then I’ll tell you.”

Crist for years has inspired grumbling on the GOP right that he’s too moderate. But that hasn’t stopped him from becoming perhaps the biggest fundraiser in Florida’s political history; in 2006, his gubernatorial campaign raised an astonishing $24.6 million.

As of March 31, the end of the latest reporting period, Crist’s U.S. Senate campaign had raised about $9.6 million from more than 4,800 individual donors and another $522,000 from scores of political action committees. He had $7.6 million cash on hand, as much as leading Republican candidate Marco Rubio and leading Democrat Kendrick Meek combined.

But Crist’s April 29 decision to bolt the party — in the face of polls showing him losing a GOP primary to Rubio by 20 points or more — has posed a dilemma for contributors such as Griffin: Do they stick with the governor — or stick with the Republican Party of Florida, which has vilified Crist since his announcement?

Last week, 20 prominent Republicans, including former RPOF chairman Al Cardenas and such big fundraisers as Phil Handy and Tom Petway, demanded he give back their donations.

“We helped to support, and yes to bankroll, your political career,” the letter stated. “Those days are over.”

The Crist campaign is under no legal obligation to return anyone’s money, and a spokeswoman indicated it has no intention to do so.

“Our policy is these individuals gave their money to a good cause, and we intend to spend their money on a good cause,” said Michelle Todd, an adviser to the campaign.

She said she did not know how many people have asked for their money back.

Not all Republicans are bailing. Continue reading here.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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