Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s Senate campaign is accused of breaking campaign finance law by ghost-writing a negative website about his opponent in the Republican primary race .
At issue is the new site, TruthAboutRubio.com, which launched this week and features hits on Crist
primary opponent Marco Rubio, including suggesting Rubio's campaign was behind a
video comparing Crist to Adolf Hitler.
Redstate.com blogger Erick Erickson has been on the case, after a reader ran down the source code from the site. There, Erickson found a tag that appears to be connected to a longtime Crist adviser, Rich Heffley. Heffley is a Crist appointee and is currently being paid as an adviser to the state GOP.
After Erickson and reporters contacted Heffley, the site was reportedly taken down and then relaunched, with the tag, “rheffley,” no longer in the source code. Heffley would neither confirm nor deny involvement in the site.
Erickson, who is backing Rubio in the primary, has suggested Crist’s campaign could get in trouble for failing to disclose its connection to the website. Candidates are required to provide a disclaimer on all campaign literature.
Erickson and The Miami Herald also suggest Heffley’s connection to the Florida Republican Party raises issues of whether the site represents coordination between the state GOP and Crist’s campaign, which would open up another can of worms. Such coordination is limited by law and must be disclosed.
The website, which The Hill noted earlier this week, no longer features the Crist/Hitler video, and on its front page it is thanking Redstate.com for all the attention. It still does not list an author or responsible party.
Crist told the Herald on Wednesday that he wasn’t aware of anyone from his campaign being behind the site, but he was familiar enough with it to say that all of its content was in the public domain.
Asked about Heffley’s alleged involvement, Crist didn’t have an answer.
"I don't know that it's verified," he told the Herald.
The Hill has reached out to the parties involved for comment.
UPDATE: The St. Petersburg Times' Adam Smith has Heffley saying he's not responsible for the site, though he is indirectly responsible for some of its content.
From the Times:
That's insane, Heffley told Buzz. Someone forwarded him that Hitler YouTube video the other day, Heffley said, and he was so offended and annoyed about that and the barrage of one-sided attacks on Crist lately that he sent out a bunch of news articles to people who were putting together a Web site. He didn't create truthaboutrubio.com, but he was happy to feed it with factual news accounts in the public record.
"I'm tired of this guy getting an open field running without accountability and without the other side of the story being told that's out there,'' an unapologetic and undefensive Heffley said of Rubio. "Nobody on the Crist campaign asked me to do it, and I'm not being paid by the Crist campaign."
And Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman Katie Gordon Betta tells The Hill that Heffley is not being paid for work at the governor or federal level, and that he only does caucus work for state House and Senate campaigns.
UPDATE 2: Crist campaign spokesman Pablo Diaz says: "We don’t know who’s behind the website."