Marco Rubio was barely solvent as a young lawmaker climbing his way to the top post in the Florida House, but special interest donations and political perks allowed him to spend big money with little scrutiny.
About $600,000 in contributions was stowed in two inconspicuous political committees controlled by Rubio, now the Republican front-runner for the U.S. Senate, and his wife. A St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald analysis of the expenses found:
• 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.
Rubio's spending continued in 2005 when the Republican Party of Florida handed him a credit card to use at his own discretion. While serving as House speaker in 2007 and 2008, he charged thousands of dollars in restaurant tabs to the state party at the same time taxpayers were subsidizing his meals in Tallahassee.
Rubio's high-roller political spending belies his image as an outsider riding a wave of antiestablishment fervor and gunning to knock off Gov. Charlie Crist for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. A Times/Herald review of other legislators' committees shows they typically contributed far more to other candidates and reported vastly fewer credit card payments.
"Having expenditures in the tens of thousands of dollars to pay off credit cards, it's clear to me it was being used to live off of. The Rubios were living off it,'' said state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a strong Crist supporter.
Rubio has already admitted he used the GOP's credit card to double bill the party and state taxpayers in 2007 for flights from South Florida to Tallahassee. He said he would pay the party back about $3,000 for the flights and consult with his accountant about amending his tax return.
During the 2007 and 2008 legislative sessions, records show Speaker Rubio charged more than $3,700 in meals on his party credit card at the same time he was receiving the state's $126 per day "subsistence" to help cover legislators' food and lodging. Harris said the meal charges were for political purposes, though the speaker's successor typically oversees political activities for House Republicans and lawmakers are not allowed to raise money during session.
Rubio received $10,000 for meals and lodging from the state in 2007 and 2008. Still, the credit card records obtained by the Times/Herald showed Rubio regularly dined out at the party's expense — from a $14.24 bill at Andrew's Capital Grill & Bar, to $184.15 at Masa, an upscale "Asian-fusion'' restaurant.
"It would be entirely inappropriate for Marco to use (taxpayer) money to pay for meals that were political in nature,'' Harris said. "As a general rule, the subsistence payments went to subsidize lodging for Marco and any time he spent money for a political meal he made sure that the party paid for it."
For his last year as speaker, Rubio reported a net worth of less than $8,400, despite earning $69,000 from Florida International University, $45,000 from the state and $300,000 from Broad & Cassell. The father of four had more than $900,000 in debts, including two mortgages on properties in Miami and Tallahassee, a home equity loan and a student loan.
To recap, Marco Rubio has used his position as Speaker of the Florida House to pull in big time cash which he has used to finance his own high roller lifestyle. If you think that's something, just imagine what kind of kickbacks he could get working as a US Senator. Yeah, a real man of the people, that guy.
In the race for junior Senator from the State of Florida there is only one true man of the people and that is Congressman Kendrick Meek. He isn't looking to stuff his pockets with this position, he is looking to better the lives of all Floridians. If the Tea Baggers were truly worried about fiscal responsibility HE is the guy whom they would rally around regardless of party.
Or they can keep backing a guy who is going to sell them out for top dollar no sooner than he takes his oath of office.
It is what it is.