Marco Rubio has led a pretty charmed life lately, as he’s vaulted past Gov. Charlie Crist to take a commanding lead in the race for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate.
But that could be ending. Last week, the Miami Herald reported that Rubio had charged computer supplies, groceries, and products from a music equipment store and a wine store, among other items, to the Florida GOP. And over the weekend, the St. Petersburg Times added to the picture, with a detailed look at the finances of the various political action committees that Rubio set up over the last decade, as he charted a course from little-known local pol to Speaker of the Florida House.
Among the findings:
• Rubio failed to disclose $34,000 in expenses — including $7,000 he paid himself — for one of the committees in 2003 and 2004, as required by state law.
• One committee paid relatives nearly $14,000 for what was incorrectly described to the IRS as “courier fees” and listed a nonexistent address for one of them. Another committee paid $5,700 to his wife, who was listed as the treasurer, much of it for “gas and meals.”
• He billed more than $51,000 in unidentified “travel expenses” to three different credit cards — nearly one-quarter of the committee’s entire haul. Charges are not required to be itemized, but other lawmakers detailed almost all of their committee expenses.
A Rubio campaign spokesman told the paper that Rubio followed the law, but admitted
that the $34,000 in expenses should have been reported. “Every single thing Marco Rubio did was in accordance with both the letter and spirit, not only of Florida law, but of the policies and practices of the Republican Party of Florida,” said Todd Harris, a Washington PR consultant and frequent GOP talking head. “While every penny was accounted for, not all of the bureaucratic paperwork was filed and we will take whatever steps are appropriate to make sure that gets done.”
Harris added: “This is not taxpayer money we’re talking about.”
One of Rubio’s PACs, accordiing to the Times, was supposed to help fund his “100 Ideas” initiative, by soliciting ideas from the public. But two thirds of the PAC’s money went to GOP political consultants, one of whom was paid $113,000 and ended up as Rubio’s chief of staff — suggesting that the PAC may have been as much about paying for political advice. The consultant, Richard Corcoran, told the Times: “I was hired for strategy and the strategy was to have a bold agenda. That was my role, and beyond that I cannot address.”
Of course, it’s hardly uncommon for ambitious pols to launch PACs that fund their political activities and expenses. But Rubio’s squeaky clean outsider image — as contrasted with Crist’s style of political deal-making — has always been central to his appeal.
Crist’s campaign jumped on the chance to take a whack at Rubio, declaring that Rubio’s “actions prove he has an ethical blind spot and thinks he can fool voters all the way to the Senate.”