Was Rick Santorum's visit to Tampa Bay in '05 more than just visiting Terri Schiavo?

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The latest challenger to Mitt Romney's run for the GOP presidential nomination is former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, whose surge in the final week of the Iowa Caucus has given him a new lease on life in the campaign.

One thing commentators on the right and left agreed upon after Tuesday night, when he came just 8 votes shy of defeating Romney, was that his record in office was going to get a lot more scrutiny, because frankly, it hasn't, as he has maintained (along with Jon Huntsman) his position at the bottom of the pack.

A fantastic critique comes from a column by Philadelphia Daily News progressive blogger Will Bunch, who goes over parts of Santorum's life in public office that still aren't receiving the attention of the national political reporting class.

Bunch has closely covered Santorum from the time he became a U.S. Senator in Pennsylvania, and lists a series of issues that show him in less than a favorable light. And it's got nothing to do with his "Google problem," or his sometimes bizarre comments about homosexuality.

One of the most interesting things that Bunch writes about is an incident that happened in the Tampa Bay area, when Santorum made the pilgrimage to Clearwater in the spring of 2005 during the Terri Schiavo crisis. He writes:


Santorum was never above mingling his cultural crusades with the everyday work of raising political cash. In 2005, Santorum made headlines — not all positive — for visiting the deathbed of Terri Schiavo, the woman at the center of a national right-to-die controversy. What my Philadelphia Daily News colleague John Baer later exposed was that the real reason he was in the Tampa, Fla., area was to collect money at a $250,000 fundraiser organized by executives of Outback Steakhouses, a company that shared Santorum’s passion for a low minimum wage for waitresses and other rank-and-file workers. Santorum’s efforts were also aided by his unusual mode of travel: Wal-Mart’s corporate jet. And he canceled a public meeting on Social Security reform "out of respect for the Schiavo family" even as the closed fundraisers went on.

Bunch writes about plenty of other charges, including what he says is founding a charity that was actually "a bit of a scam," and reports that a "leadership PAC" created by Santorum that was supposed to fund other Republicans "instead seemed to mostly pay for the lifestyle of Santorum and those around him."

Of course, Santorum's controversial views on contraception and gay marriage are hard to resist.

You may have heard what happened when NH college students confronted Santorum recently about his views on gay marriage.

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