TALLAHASSEE — Twenty major Republican donors demanded Wednesday that Gov. Charlie Crist return every penny of the money they gave him for his Senate campaign, saying he broke their trust when he decided to run as an independent candidate.
The donors, including former state GOP chairman Al Cardenas, noted that Crist had $7.6 million in his campaign account at the end of March and said anyone who wants their money back should have it returned.
"We helped to support, and yes to bankroll, your political career. For years you have been asking us for money. And for years we have put our names and credibility on the line by asking our friends to donate to you. Those days are over," the letter read.
Crist announced last week that he would run on his own rather than face former House Speaker Marco Rubio. He was immediately criticized by Republican leaders who called for him to drop out of the race if he felt he couldn't win the Aug. 24 primary.
Polls showed Crist more than 20 points behind Rubio, but competitive in a three-way race. U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek is the Democratic front-runner.
"For years you have been one of the Republican Party's most outstanding and vocal leaders. But now, because of simple self-interest and political calculation, you are walking away from the people and principles that you often told us defined you 'to your core,'" the donors' letter said.
As individuals, the donors are limited to giving $2,400 for the primary and another $2,400 for the general election. But more importantly, they also help persuade others to contribute. The most the 20 individual donors could have given, collectively, would be less than $100,000. While they are prominent among Republican insiders, most are not everyday household names.
Crist is not required to give back the money.
A Crist spokeswoman didn't immediately return a call seeking comment. Crist didn't immediately return a message left on his cell phone.
Republicans have harshly criticized the governor, once a superstar in the party. Earlier in the week the state GOP said out an e-mail that included the statement "You can't spell Charlie without lie."
But Crist did get love from some people with a lot of money: The Seminole Indian tribe.
In a signing ceremony that was as much a rally to support Crist's Senate race as it was a celebration of a gambling contract, Crist put his name on a 20-year deal with the tribe that will pay the state about $1.2 billion over the next five years.
Powerful tribe leaders said they would remember Crist's loyalty and people waved signs that said. "We love Charlie Crist."
"In the Constitution, it doesn't say we the party, it says we the people," council representative Max Osceola told Crist, referencing a line the governor has used to explain his party switch. "When you're a friend of Seminoles, you'll be a friend of Seminoles for life."
AP writer Kelli Kennedy contributed to this story from Hollywood, Fla.