She was a 25-year-old junior staffer when the Florida Republican Party gave her an American Express card.
Over the next 2 ½ years, nearly $1.3 million in charges wound up on Melanie Phister's AmEx -- $40,000 at a London hotel and nearly $20,000 in plane tickets for indicted former House Speaker Ray Sansom, his wife and kids, for starters. Statements show thousands spent on jewelry, sporting goods and, in one case, $15,000 for what's listed as a month-long stay at a posh Miami Beach hotel, but which the party says was a forfeited deposit.
The credit card records, obtained by the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times, offer the latest behind-the-scenes look at extravagant and free-wheeling spending by the party touting fiscal restraint. Not only did certain elite legislative leaders have their own party credit cards to spend donors' money with little oversight, but Phister's records show these leaders also liberally used an underling's card -- without her knowledge, she says.
"I did not have the sole discretion to initiate credit card spending,'' Phister said in an e-mail statement. "Over that period of time, there were multiple instances when the card was used to make purchases that I had no knowledge of, and I did not regularly review the monthly credit card statements which I understand were sent directly to the Party's accounting office.''
Even after a series of embarrassing revelations over profligate credit card spending by the likes of Republican U.S. Senate front-runner Marco Rubio, Sansom and incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon -- and pending state and federal investigations of party finances -- revelations of the huge charges on Phister's card had veteran GOP fundraisers apoplectic.
:Read the full story at MiamiHerald.com