Florida: Local Official Says Stearns Tried to Buy Him Out of Race

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted March 7, 2012 at 5:15pm

Updated: 7:40 p.m. | A clerk of courts running for Congress in Florida has accused GOP Rep. Cliff Stearns of offering him incentives to drop out of the race.

Clay County Clerk of Courts James Jett’s accusations were first reported by the political blog of Jacksonville’s Florida Times-Union after Jett told a South Clay Republicans meeting this afternoon that he had been offered perks to drop his Congressional bid.

Stearns’ office vigorously denied Jett’s allegations.

“Mr. Jett’s claim is totally unfounded — no one is authorized to make any claims or concessions on behalf of Rep. Stearns. He has not communicated with Mr. Jett at any time to get out of the race.  This is a pure and simple political maneuver by Mr. Jett to illegally entrap former friends for vindictive reasons,” Press Secretary Paul Flusche said in a statement.

The two candidates are both running in the state’s redrawn 3rd district, which includes most of Clay County. Stearns is planning to move from his current residence to the 3rd district, where about two-thirds of his current constituents reside. His most serious primary challenger is state Sen. Steve Oelrich (R).

Jett says a series of proxies approached him on behalf of Stearns, encouraging him to drop out of the race. In exchange, he was promised VIP tickets to the Republican National Convention, a state-level government job, a lobbying position or “any position you want within the Republican Party of Florida,” according to a notarized chronology he provided of exchanges with party officials.

Soon after, Jett reached out to local law enforcement officials, who contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which informed the FBI, according to the written chronology.

Jett said he agreed to record any phone calls he received from the intermediaries and wear a recording device to a meeting he had planned with Stearns at a fundraiser, but added that FBI agents later said they could not get approval to record the exchange.

Jett went to the March 2 meeting and “told [Stearns] that I met with the FBI and that he was the focus of an investigation,” Jett told Roll Call.

Flusche dismissed the account as a bid to secure employment once Jett realized Stearns would be seeking re-election in the same district.

“Mr. Jett’s allegations arose from his own solicitations and strategies for compensation to remove himself as a candidate once he found out that Rep. Stearns would be running in the newly formed district,” Flusche said in a statement.

Republicans in the district said they were taken aback by the news, given Jett’s solid reputation in the community and Stearns’ long tenure as their Representative in Congress.

South Clay GOP President Ann Wiggins said that although “rumors had started to fly” about the disagreement between Jett and Stearns over the district, today’s allegations have “taken a lot of people by surprise.”

“I was taken aback,” South Clay Republicans member Melissa Baker said. “I knew that Cliff Stearns had changed his mind and that he was upset Jimmy Jett was not backing out, but as far as this other stuff, I had no idea.”