BILL KACZOR

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) â¿¿ Gov. Charlie Crist asked BP PLC on Wednesday to pay nearly $35 million for an emergency ad campaign to assure the world that Florida's beaches and coastal waters are untainted by the company's Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The spill off Louisiana so far has stayed well away from the Florida Panhandle shoreline but that hasn't stopped thousands of wary tourists from canceling or declining to make reservations.

Crist earlier Wednesday promised the panel that oversees state tourism promotion he would help find money for efforts to counteract those fears.

"I'm there," Crist told the Visit Florida Board of Directors. "You don't have to twist my arm. I'm twisting theirs."

Three hours later, Crist announced he had sent a letter to BP America president Lamar McKay seeking $24.75 million for an immediate national and international media campaign through July "to counter the impact of widespread negative imagery generated by the spill." He asked for $10 million more for additional marketing by coastal counties through September.

A BP spokesman had no immediate comment.

"We need to advertise, get the message out that our beaches are clean, our water is clean, the fish are biting, please come to the Panhandle, it's beautiful," Crist said after appearing before the Visit Florida board.

Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association president Carol Dover, who also serves on the Visit Florida board, told the governor Panhandle occupancy rates usually are booked at 90 percent or more for the summer tourism season but that they've now dropped to less than 20 percent.

"They live and die by the next 90 days," Dover said. "If we don't do something like immediately â¿¿ like by the end of the week or the first of next week â¿¿ they're going to die."

The board has $2.5 million in state money it can use for the ad campaign, but officials said that's not enough. Crist said BP as the "responsible party" should pay for it.

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