Joe Gruters announced several endorsements for his candidacy to become the next chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, including from state Senate Majority Whip Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton.

In a press release this morning, Flores touted his “bold, innovative, conservative leadership,” saying he is “just the leader our party needs to build a sustaining majority.”

Bennett, meanwhile, cited Gruters’ past experience in his shining endorsement of the candidate, alluding to the many years he worked as a campaign manager in Florida: “The RPOF needs a leader like Joe Gruters. His proven experience running campaigns, raising funds, and communicating our conservative message will be an asset as RPOF Chairman.”

Pat Neal, chairman of the Christian Coalition of Florida, cited  Gruters’ “abilities to raise funds” as one of the reasons for his endorsement, and former Senator Tim Deratany said that his success as a “businessman, fundraiser and campaign manager” made him a “breath of fresh air” for the party.

Gruters’ involvement with the controversial campaigns of Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, is well-known in the state, and yet has posed seemingly no problems during his campaign for party chair. Gruters acted as Buchanan’s campaign manager for several years, and became his campaign treasurer in 2010. Buchanan also employs Gruters’ wife, Sydney, as his director of operations.

Dozens of lawsuits alleging mismanagement of campaign contributions have plagued Rep. Buchanan for years. Several of his former employees have filed suit, alleging pressure to contribute to his campaign, in exchange for reimbursements from his car dealerships.

On Dec. 17, the Federal Election Commission took the allegations a step further — suing one of Buchanan’s former business partners in federal court, alleging violations of campaign contribution laws.

The Florida Independent was the first to break the story of the FEC suit, which stemmed from contributions received during Buchanan’s 2006 campaign. According to the complaint, a Hyundai dealership owned by Buchanan reimbursed $16,800 in contributions to Vern Buchanan for Congress in 2005, $32,700 in 2006 and $18,400 in 2007. The FEC suit alleges that, in total, the “defendants used [Hyundai of North Jacksonville] funds to reimburse at least $67,900 in purported individual contributions to [Vern Buchanan for Congress] during Buchanan’s 2006 and 2008 congressional campaigns.”

But Gruters’ involvement with the tarnished Buchanan campaign hasn’t appeared to hurt him in the slightest. Considered by many to be the front-runner for RPOF chair, he has received several endorsements and essentially no flak for the time he spent on the Buchanan campaign. Several calls and emails to the Republican Party of Florida regarding Gruters’ involvement went unreturned, as did those to the office of current party chair, John Thrasher.

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