Marco Rubio has a 'big money' problem

As the race heats up for the White House, new attention is being paid to questions raised about the way Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) used campaign cash during his time in the Sunshine State’s Legislature.

When Rubio entered the Florida House of Representatives in 2000, the then 28-year-old was laden with debt. The Tampa Bay Times described him as “barely solvent” as he plotted his ascent to Speaker of the House in 2006 and the lead up to his 2009 run for the U.S. Senate. During this time, Rubio apparently used the resources of his two political committees and an American Express credit card from the state Republican Party for some of his personal expenses.

The Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times investigated Rubio’s questionable bookkeeping in 2010. Those reports showed Rubio’s free use of his party credit card to cover personal expenses like a $US135 haircut, trip to a local liquor store and $US10,000 family vacation. Rubio said at the time that honest bookkeeping mistakes were made and insisted he reimbursed the state party when necessary to pay for personal charges.

Mother Jones revisited those reports this week and suggested Rubio’s handling of his finances could “bring national scrutiny” and haunt him as he is poised to pursue a White House bid in 2016.

The allegations surrounding Rubio’s finances fall in two major areas, his credit card usage and his political committees.

Rubio’s American Express credit card from the Florida Republican Party

  • Rubio was given an American Express card backed by the Florida GOP from 2005 until Nov. 2008, when he left the State Legislature.
  • Questions emerged in 2010 about more than $US100,000 charged to the card, beginning in 2006 when he was elected House Speaker.
  • Rubio defended those charges as legitimate and said he had paid $US16,000 to the party to cover personal expenses (like a $US135 haircut at a high class Miami barber shop in 2007) that were unrelated to party business.
  • In November 2006, $US10,000 was charged to the card for a Rubio family vacation at Melhana Plantation, an antebellum resort in Georgia. Rubio told the Times the charge was a mistake by a travel agent and said he mailed a check directly to American Express to pay for it.
  • Additional personal expenses that were never reimbursed include $US68.33 for “beverages” and a “meal” from Happy Wine liquor store near Rubio’s West Miami home that also serve tapas and $US765 from Apple’s online store for “computer supplies.”

Political committees:

During his time in the Florida House, Rubio started two separate political committees, Floridians for Conservative Leadership and Floridians for Conservative Leadership in Government. The groups received an estimated $US600,000 in less than three years.

Floridians for Conservative Leadership

  • Created in Dec. 2002 with the purpose to “support state and local candidates who espouse conservative government policies,” the committee was seen as a vehicle to drum up support for Rubio’s push to become House speaker in 2006. The entity was registered with the state of Florida, with the ability to give contributions to political candidates.
  • Raised more than $US228,000. $US4,000 was distributed as direct campaign contributions to other candidates.
  • Rubio’s wife, former Miami Dolphins cheerleader Jeanette Dousdebes, served as committee treasurer. $US5,700 was paid to his wife primarily for “gas and meals.”
  • The Committee was registered t0 Rubio’s West Miami home. Close to $US85,000 was spent on office/operating costs and $US65,000 for administrative costs.
  • Over 18 months, $US89,000 was spent on political consultants, $US14,000 was paid to Rubio for reimbursements, $US51,000 in credit card payments for food, lodging and airfare. No details were provided on who was travelling or the locations of the transactions.
  • A 2010 investigation by the Florida newspapers showed that $US34,000 in expenses, including a $US7,000 reimbursement to Rubio himself, had not been disclosed, as required by state law.
  • Rubio’s then campaign adviser Todd Harris, told the Times in 2010, “The bookkeeping in (that) committee was not always perfect.”

Floridians for Conservative Leadership in Government

  • This committee was created in late 2003, and shut down in 2005, with the mission to educate the public about conservative leadership in government. It raised more than $US386,000. The committee was registered with the IRS as a 527 fund, but it was not registered with the state of Florida. It was not allowed to donate money to political candidates.
  • $US14,000 paid to his mother-in-law and Rubio relatives for courier services.
  • More than $US74,000 in expenses by the committee was never accounted for in papers filed with the IRS.
  • Rubio’s then-campaign adviser said in 2010 the unspecified expenses were for transactions under $US500 and did not have to be disclosed by law.

Rubio was dogged by questions about his spending when he ran against then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for Senate in 2010. During that campaign, Crist said Rubio used his political committees as “slush funds.” Crist also claimed Rubio used his office in the legislature to “enhance his personal enrichment.”

Rubio managed to escape the scrutiny and was victorious over Crist in 2010.

But now that Rubio is eyeing a larger stage and is expected to run for President in 2016, his history will again be called into question.

Though seen as the underdog in Florida since he will presumably face his former mentor, the state’s former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) in the Republican primary race, Rubio is still seen as a serious contender.

The Washington Post reported this week that Rubio is expected to receive $US10 million in backing from billionaire Miami car dealer Norman Braman in the presidential race. (Rubio’s wife works part time for Braman’s charitable foundation.)

Spokespeople for Rubio did not respond to a request for comment about the speculation the questions about his finances from his days in the Florida Legislature could affect his future campaigns.

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