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Ritter and Klenet Kept Eating Out After Campaign Was Over

Okay, so you're tired of hearing about the Stacy Ritter and Russ Klenet campaign fund, but I just can't quit it yet.

Revelations keep coming to the surface. We already have the extravagant dinners, the family phone bills, the dinner in Manchester, Vermont, the bedsheets and pillows from Target, the nonexistent $5,000 check to the Florida Democratic Party, the thousand dollars spent at The Fresh Market, a bounced $5,000 check and a mysteriously withdrawn $3,000 in cash from the campaign account.

But we may not have touched on some of the most obvious violations of all -- namely money spent by Russ and Stacy after the campaign was over.

Ritter never had an opponent, but didn't become officially unopposed until June 20, 2008. That is the day she won her seat. Florida law is very specific about what she could spend her remaining campaign money on. Other than charitable donations and contributions to her political party, here's what the law allows:  

(a)() Purchase "thank you" advertising for up to 75 days after he or she withdraws, becomes unopposed, or is eliminated or elected.

(b)() Pay for items which were obligated before he or she withdrew, became unopposed, or was eliminated or elected.

(c)() Pay for expenditures necessary to close down the campaign office and to prepare final campaign reports.

When the Florida Elections Commission demanded that Ritter produce receipts to justify roughly $15,000 in vague reimbursements she paid herself and her husband, she submitted some expenses that appear to be in violation of that law.

Just a quick once-over of the receipts Ritter submitted shows that she and her husband (mostly her husband) spent at least $1,660 after she won office on dinners, food, and groceries. Mostly dinners. The expenses included a $134 dinner at Jackson's Steakhouse on June 30,  two TGI Friday's dinners totaling about $143, about $115 spent during two trips to Westside Bagels, a $56 trip to Publix, and a $77.54 Red Lobster dinner. The largest apparently improper post-victory expense was $1,000 to the Tamarac Cafe Diner on June 30 for catering for 200 people who attended an "Obama Fellowship Program."  

Many of them were charged to Russ Klenet's credit card and some of the receipts included the notation "meeting w/ volunteers." Volunteers for a nonexistent (at that time) campaign?

Inside see how a reader believes she knows exactly where that Vermont dinner took place.

A reader says she's certain the dinner took place at The Reluctant Panther, which was brought up by some commenters yesterday. I agree that it's the most likely place in Manchester, Vermont they went to, mainly because it's upscale and the "luc" of "Reluctant" seems to be legible on the receipt.

I mentioned yesterday that Ritter and Klenet had gone to New England previously to campaign for Barack Obama. But the reader points out that there was no conceivable reason why Ritter would be in Vermont campaigning. And she's right. Vermont was indeed a lock for Obama as he was ahead in the polls by 19 points that summer. Here's the letter:

I'm a regular reader of your blog, just love reading it, and I can unequivocally tell you the name of the restaurant on that receipt.  It's the Reluctant Panther Inn in Manchester, VT.  I can guarantee you Russ and Stacy weren't campaigning up there at that time.  Obama didn't do much campaigning in VT. That state was a lock for him, one of the most liberal states in the nation.

That restaurant is a high-end, very fine restaurant up there.  I'm a regular visitor to VT, and know it well. I'm sure Russ had a multi-page wine list to choose from, and this restaurant is regularly rated as one of the finest in southern VT. I've never been there, way above my budget, but it's supposed to be superb, both as to food and service.

I'm sure Stacy found plenty to do there as well.  It's an outlet shopping mecca, with lots of great shopping.  It's also a picture-perfect, quintessential VT town.  I love going there myself.  Don't know if Russ and Stacy ever have time to read much, but the town also has a very fine bookstore, Northshire Books.  Dominick Dunne used to go there.

Neysa Sosa, Hialeah, FL

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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