McCollum dodges the truth

Published: May 18, 2010

The biggest scandal surrounding infamous anti-gay crusader George Rekers isn't that he hired a travel companion from to accompany him on a two-week European vacation.

The biggest scandal isn't even reports that Rekers, the 61-year-old founder of the rabidly anti-gay Family Research Center, received nude,sexual massages from his 20-year-old male escort.

The real scandal is that Attorney General Bill McCollum paid Rekers $120,000 in taxpayer money even though Rekers was a long-discredited ideologue that two courts had already deemed worthless as an expert witness.

From the beginning of this scandal, McCollum has sought to dodge the truth and duck his responsibility.

Public records now reveal that despite his attempts to blame the hiring on others, McCollum personally vouched for Rekers and aggressively advocated that he be hired over the initial objections of the cash-strapped Department of Children & Families. Public records also show that McCollum ignored DCF's spending cap and the terms of the written agreement with Rekers and doubled his pay from $60,000 to $120,000.

The political backdrop to this astonishing "expert" witness payday cannot be ignored. McCollum is running for governor and has taken heat from the most conservative wing of his party. What better way to burnish his conservative bona fides than to aggressively support the ban using a witness with strong ties to arch-conservative organizations?

But now, with intense public scrutiny of his witness, McCollum and his team are distancing themselves from the ban, trotting out the fact that his top consultant is a married gay dad of children he adopted in Massachusetts. Surely, McCollum doesn't believe his own disgraced witness' assessment that gay people are mentally imbalanced and that his consultant's children would be better off in foster care.

Every credible child welfare agency and respected researcher on the issue disagrees with Florida's anti-gay adoption ban. That is why Florida is the only state with a law that says no matter how qualified to parent, no matter how loving a home a person can provide, that individual cannot adopt "if that person is a homosexual."

It is the most notorious anti-gay state law in the country, and it is the most spiteful kind of public policy that robs children of permanent loving homes.

Thousands of children languish in our foster care system hoping to be adopted. Hundreds age out of the system each year, never knowing a permanent home or the network of support and protection that comes from having a family.

In McCollum's first statements he stood by his discredited witness, even as right wing organizations were scrubbing Rekers from their websites. As scrutiny of his financial dealings with Rekers deepen, he is scrambling to distance himself.

Just as in Florida, Rekers billed the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services more than twice his $60,000 retainer. But here's the difference: Arkansas stood up to him, took him to court and ended up paying only what they'd agreed to initially.

Why did McCollum pay without question and without requiring any documentation from Rekers of what the extra charges covered? Why was he so eager to hire a discredited witness at an unprecedented cost in the first place?

It is time for a full investigation. We have a right to know if taxpayer money was distributed improperly, perhaps even fraudulently. It's time for McCollum to come clean.

Nadine Smith is executive director of Equality Florida, a St. Petersburg-based advocacy organization working to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, gender and class.


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