Fla. Gov. Crist Returns Donation From Firm With Insurance Ties

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has returned a $25,000 donation for his inauguration that came from a Fort Lauderdale law firm with connections to the insurance industry.

Crist spokeswoman Erin Isaac said the money was returned because it was given too close to the time the Legislature will hold a special session on the state’s ongoing property insurance crisis. The session begins Jan. 16, just two weeks after Crist takes office.

“The inaugural committee was not comfortable taking the donation,” Isaac said.

Crist’s supporters initially sought to raise as much as $2.5 million to pay for a series of inauguration events, including a $100-a-ticket inaugural ball in Tallahassee.

But Crist decided earlier this month to cancel the Jan. 2 ball and said he’d return any donations over $10,000. Crist said one of the reasons he wanted to forgo the inaugural ball was because it was wrong to hold a lavish party while many Floridians are paying higher insurance premiums and property taxes.

The inauguration committee returned the full $25,000 it had received Dec. 4 from the Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate law firm.

Michael Colodny served as outside general counsel for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and its predecessor from 1993 until late 2005, when questions arose about his firm’s ties with companies trying to take policies from the state-run insurer.

Fred Karlinsky worked at the Department of Insurance when it was being run by Tom Gallagher, who lost to Crist in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Colodny said he was not told why the firm’s $25,000 check was returned.

The state’s insurance market has been in shambles after insurers paid out more than $36 billion in claims following a series of destructive hurricanes that hit Florida in 2004 and 2005.

An attempt by the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush to fix the crisis in the 2006 session has not lowered premiums or quieted consumer outrage over sharply higher rates.

A task force created by Bush made recommendations on what lawmakers should pursue in the January special session and Crist said he would weigh in with his some “strong recommendations” as well.