A Closer Look at Rubio’s Credit Card Use
The buzz in Florida political circles today has been centered around the revelation that former House Speaker Marco Rubio, now a candidate for U.S. Senate, made extensive use of a controversial American Express card provided by the Republican Party of Florida.
During his two-year term as Speaker of the House, Rubio charged more than $100,000 to the state party.
Some of the charges that are drawing particular attention include $133.75 for a haircut at an upscale barbershop in Miami, $1,000 for automotive repairs to Rubio's personal vehicle and $765 at Apple's online store. Rubio also billed the party for various expenses in Tallahassee during the legislative sessions in 2007 and 2008. Those bills included nearly $4,100 in restaurant tabs — from a $409 bill at a Macaroni Grill to a $7.09 charge at a Chick-fil-A.
Rubio apparently traveled with his card as well. Charges for $128 and $53.66 at the Museum of Natural History in New York were made on Dec. 10, 2006, followed by $116.78 at Ellen's Stardust Diner in New York on the same day.
The Charlie Crist campaign wasted little time in taking shots at Rubio's spending.
"It seems that when you’re a member of the Florida House and still working as a lobbyist for special interests, every expense is political, even the trip to the local liquor store paid for by Republican donors,” said Andrea Saul, the Crist campaign's communications director.
"In four years, Speaker Rubio made $1.2 million dollars from his law/lobbying firm," Saul continued. "When will he come clean about how he profited from his clients’ business before state government?"
Former Senator Bob Smith's campaign has also been pounding Rubio on the credit card news. Smith Campaign Operations Director Chuck Winn asks: "Exactly, how did a Party 'outsider' get to be Florida House Speaker and, of course, an RPOF American Express cardholder?”
The former Speaker has also come under fire for booking a half-dozen plane tickets for his wife to travel with him.
"My wife was the first lady of the Florida House of Representatives, and it is absolutely appropriate for her to accompany me to official events and party functions," Rubio told the media.
Mark Murray of NBC News addressed that remark in his daily online column: "First lady of the Florida House of Representatives? Have you heard Harry Reid, Denny Hastert, etc. refer to their wives that way?"
Rubio's campaign tried to blunt the story by sending an open letter to newly elected party Chairman John Thrasher.
"At no time during my four years as a cardholder did the party ask me to provide additional information about, or personally pay, any of the charges I submitted for payment. I always took it upon myself to identify and directly pay American Express for all non-official expenses," Rubio told Thrasher. "During the two-year period in question, I made $16,052.50 in direct payments to AMEX to cover non-party related expenditures. To the greatest extent possible, I made sure the Party never paid for any personal charges."
To adhere to IRS rules for tax-exempt organizations, party credit cards are meant to cover only expenses directly related to influencing the outcome of elections.
"If you can look at an IRS agent with a straight face and say this was for electioneering purposes, that's fine. If you can't, you shouldn't do it," said Tallahassee lawyer John French told the Tampa Bay Tribune. "It's got to pass the smell test."