Who Is Allen Cox and What Can We Learn From Him?

Feb 21, 2013 by

On Feb. 11, with the utterance of three words, “Guilty, Your Honor,” Jim Greer prematurely ended an ugly and convoluted chapter in the Republican Party of Florida’s history. The disgraced former party chair also dashed the hopes of many who wanted to see the fireworks of a full-blown trial and accountability for all who participated in illegal or unethical behavior.

The story was years in the making. It began in 2006, when Greer, handpicked by then Gov.-elect Charlie Crist and backed by leaders in the Florida Legislature, just barely received enough votes to become the Republican Party of Florida’s chair. He was re-elected two years later with only 75 percent of the vote, even though he was not officially challenged.

While his arrogant behavior and big-spending ways ruffled a lot of feathers, he continued to enjoy the support from those in the highest echelons of state government — the governor, attorney general, and legislative leaders.

Those in the grassroots of Florida’s Republican Party started to express grave concerns about fiscal mismanagement, credit card scandals, and the financial health of the party. But the elected elite, who enjoyed unfettered access to party resources, circled the wagons by sending a not-so-subtle message to dissenters to cease and desist.

Some of the grassroots party members caved to the influence of these powerful forces. Others, who took their fiduciary responsibilities seriously, didn’t believe that keeping Greer in charge and allowing the questionable financial practices to continue were in the best interest of the party.

Enter Allen Cox. Cox, who then served as vice chairman of the party, was the man brave enough to stand up against the power elite to expose the misuse of party funds.

He, along with a few others, not only repeatedly called for a full financial audit, a request rebuffed by the attorney general and legislative leaders. He also enlisted 50 Republican Party of Florida members — state committee men and women and county party chairs — to sign a written request for a special meeting of the party’s state committee to rescind the January 2009 election of Chairman Greer. The request outlined four charges, including financial mismanagement, violation of party rules, and violation of two articles of the Republican Party of Florida’s constitution.

Greer continued to be protected by those in position to force a full accounting. Was their intention to protect the party, as they claimed, or to protect their shared secrets with a chairman who was losing the support of his organization?

Allen Cox reached out to me and several supportive elected officials to back up his call for cleaning up the party. A few of us joined in to publicly call for a full and open audit, to no avail. Party leaders supported a less transparent accounting while expressing their confidence in the embattled chairman.

Renowned British conservative Edmund Burke reportedly said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Clearly Cox is a good man who didn’t stand by and do nothing. His reward, however, was to be ostracized by his own political party. What a shame!

Allen Cox is an unsung hero. He epitomizes what is right within the party. He called out bad behavior and had grassroots support in doing so. And instead of good behavior being rewarded, unfortunately the opposite occurred.

Instead of the open process requested, clandestine agreements were signed, Greer resigned and the powers that be installed a sitting state senator to serve as chair, someone who was part of the secret contract. The result was more top-down command, little accountability, and business as usual.

Imagine what the past three years and the last election cycle could have been like for the Republican Party of Florida if they had heeded Cox’s call for coming clean and reforming the party. Instead, the party suffered through a long period of rumor, innuendo and finger pointing that led up to the much anticipated trial that ended abruptly last week with Greer’s guilty plea, leaving a plethora of unanswered questions.

The lone casualty — Jim Greer — became the fall guy for all the bad behavior. His supporting cast walked away relatively unscathed. While it’s hard to feel sorry for Greer, it’s harder to believe that justice was served or that lessons were learned.

Cox recently said, in an article in The Miami Herald, that he hoped Greer’s case would serve as a catalyst to end the tradition of legislators using party funds to skirt state law. He suggested eliminating the loophole that allows legislative leaders to raise money and park it at the party and have near total discretion in how it is spent.

This year the Florida Legislature is bringing forth ethics reform and campaign finance reform legislation. Yet not included in either bill is any reform requiring political parties to disclose how they collect or spend political contributions.

Allen Cox was one of the bravest and most ethical among the Republican Party of Florida in 2009 and he was cast aside. The powers that be didn’t listen to him then. Will they be smart enough to listen now?

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