A Republican challenger for Rep. Cliff Stearns's, R-Fla., congressional district alleged today that Stearns, acting through a middleman, offered him bribes to drop his bid for Stearns's seat and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating the situation.
Clay County Clerk of Courts James Jett told local Republicans and the Florida Times-Union that he was offered money and various jobs to forego his run for the new 3rd Congressional District. The Times-Union:
Stearns used former state Education Commissioner Jim Horne as the middle man to offer everything from money to appointed political positions, Jett said during a South Clay Republicans meeting at the Magnolia Point Golf & Country Club.
Offerings included a job on Stearns' campaign staff or cash to cover the approximately $25,000 Jett has personally spent on his congressional run, Jett said. He also said he was told there could be a job heading the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or a U.S. marshal position once there are vacancies.
Jett, who said the FBI had allowed him to talk about the situation, also said that he had a recording backing up his allegations.
This is just the latest scandal to envelop a Republican member of Florida's House delegation. Several separate agencies are investigating allegations that Rep. Vern Buchanan laundered money to his campaign accounts, and freshman Rep. David Rivera, who was the subject of ethics questions before he joined Congress, was the target of multiple criminal investigations in his first year in Washington.
Stearns's district is a safe Republican seat, and the only person to accuse him of something so far is a political opponent. But at some point, allegations like these go beyond individual congressmen and affect the wider image of Republicans in Florida, and in Washington. As recently as six years ago, cascading scandals crippled House Republicans' ability to make their electoral case. The Florida GOP has not gotten to that point yet, but their slate is not clean, either.