But Big Gulp’s personal finances have come under new scrutiny. Marco ‘Big Gulp’ Rubio finally facing scrutiny over his finances.
The Beltway media villagers at the Washington Post‘s Fact Checker tried to say “meh, nothing to see here,”Here’s why Marco Rubio’s corporate card saga isn’t really a scandal, but the campaign reporters kept pursuing it.
On Saturday, there was new reporting on this story. The New York Times reports, Marco Rubio’s Use of Party Credit Card Reinforces a Picture of Messy Finances:
Newly released credit card statements from the years when Senator Marco Rubio was a young Florida legislator on the fast track to leadership show a pattern of falling behind on payments while mingling personal and political spending, disclosures that reinforce the image of a politician who has long struggled with messy finances, at home and in his career.
On Saturday, Mr. Rubio’s campaign released roughly two years of charges, from 2005 and 2006, that were made to his Republican Party of Florida-issued American Express card, hoping to at last quiet accusations that he used party money to pay for trips, meals and gifts for him and his family.
Mr. Rubio, 44, has claimed all along, and his campaign repeated on Saturday, that he occasionally used the party’s card to pay for things that were not related to his job, but that he always paid American Express with his own money for those items.
Allegations about Mr. Rubio’s credit card use first surfaced in the heat of his 2010 campaign for Senate. Now, as a presidential candidate who is rising in the polls and winning financial backing from some of the party’s most prominent donors, questions about his spending practices have started to dog him again as his rivals seek to discredit him as too immature and irresponsible to be president.
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With the release of the 2005-06 statements, there is now a full public accounting of Mr. Rubio’s expenses for the four years he had a Republican Party credit card in his capacity as head of campaign operations for Florida House Republicans. His opponents and news outlets had long asked that they be disclosed.
In all, his campaign said on Saturday, Mr. Rubio spent $182,072 on the card from January 2005 through December 2008, of which 12 percent, or $22,003, was personal and was paid to American Express directly by him.
But those payments were routinely late — 21 times over the course of those four years — sometimes because he did not pay on time, and sometimes because the Republican Party fell behind. The account, which was listed under his name, was assessed delinquency charges seven times, adding up to $1,639.47.
His blurring of personal and professional expenses, while not illegal, is already being seized on by rivals like Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who got to know Mr. Rubio as a rising star but is now calling his judgment into question, and Donald J. Trump, who has mocked him for making financially irresponsible decisions like liquidating a retirement account.
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The embarrassment started in 2010 with the disclosure that he had used the party’s card to pay for personal items — a $10,000 family reunion in Georgia, for instance, and $134 for a visit to an upscale barber — instead of using his personal credit card.
The records released by Mr. Rubio’s campaign on Saturday offer a thorough look at when and where he used the card. There were more than two dozen visits to La Carreta, a chain of Cuban diners, sometimes for amounts under $10. There were several hundred dollars in purchases at bookstores, one listed on the statements as a family bookstore and the others from trips to a Barnes & Noble in South Miami. He spent $25 at a CVS about a half-mile from his home in West Miami. There were also purchases at a Publix grocery store in Miami.
The campaign said that all of these expenses were incurred for official purposes and that people were applying a level of scrutiny to Mr. Rubio that was not being used for other candidates.
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Like any monthly statement, these stop short of laying out the details that would provide more explanation, like who was present for a meal and what items were purchased. That missing information makes it difficult, if not impossible, to independently corroborate which purchases were personal and which were political. The campaign also said it could not provide full documentation proving Mr. Rubio had paid the personal charges himself because the corresponding personal bank statements were too old to be retrievable.
Among the expenditures identified by the campaign as personal was one that became a big distraction for Mr. Rubio when it was first disclosed five years ago: a $3,756 charge in October 2005 to Iberia Tiles for what has been described as stone pavers at his home. Mr. Rubio, who has said that he pulled the wrong card from his wallet to pay the bill, paid American Express at the time to cover the bill, according to his campaign.
Other charges from the newly released records that the campaign identified as personal included $599.45 for visits to a Honda dealership near Mr. Rubio’s West Miami home; $180 for a children’s activity center; and $715.28 to a Sym’s discount clothing store in New York City.
The charges shed some light on Mr. Rubio’s tastes and travel habits as an up-and-coming politician constantly on the road entertaining donors with access to party funds.
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Mr. Rubio blamed his opponent in the 2010 Senate primary, Charlie Crist, the governor at the time, for leaking an earlier batch of credit card statements, and he denounced Mr. Crist with a statement that seems almost unbelievable in the context of today’s presidential campaign. “The Florida G.O.P. under Jeb Bush was never run with this sort of arrogance, mismanagement, lack of integrity and lack of leadership.”
Mr. Bush, who is also running for president, said last week that he believes the credit card statements are fair game.
The Washington Post reports, Inside Marco Rubio’s messy American Express statements:
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio sought to tamp down an escalating controversy Saturday, releasing previously secret records that detailed his use of a Florida Republican Party credit card for personal expenses.
The records, which cover a 22-month period in 2005 and 2006, combined with previously disclosed credit card statements, show that Rubio charged more than $22,000 in personal expenses to the card while the account incurred more than $1,700 in delinquency and late fees over a four-year period while he was in the Florida legislature.
Rubio has maintained that he paid out of his pocket for any personal expenses on the American Express card, which he used from 2005 to 2008. But he has been beset with questions from political rivals about his spending, and been criticized by opponents for his years-long refusal to detail personal spending and release statements for most of the first two years he had the card.
Rubio’s handling of the card gained renewed attention this past week after attacks by his 2016 presidential rival Donald Trump, who accused the Florida senator of being a “disaster” with his card and living beyond his means. The attack underscored the extent to which the credit card issue, and, more broadly, Rubio’s history of amassing high amounts of personal debt, stand out as potential political liabilities as his presidential campaign gains traction.
In a news release Saturday, Rubio’s campaign portrayed the issue as resolved, listing eight personal expenses from the newly released statements that it said Rubio had paid. But the campaign did not provide documentation showing those payments.
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The information released Saturday, first reported by Politico and later distributed by Rubio’s campaign, shows that his personal charges included $3,756 to a tile company, $599 to an auto dealership and $1,745 in hotel and car rental costs in Las Vegas, where Rubio has family.
It’s unclear whether the bulk of late fees and penalties were paid personally by Rubio or by the Florida GOP. Rubio spokesman Todd Harris said, “When Marco was responsible for late fees, he paid them. When the party was responsible because it didn’t make its payments, it paid them.” A Florida GOP spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
The American Express card had been a major perk for Rubio as he rose in prominence in Florida politics. It was granted to him by the state Republican Party to pay for recruiting candidates, raising campaign donations and other expenses related to his political work.
Things quickly got messy, the records show.
After his first month with the card, Rubio was notified that the bill had not been paid on time. On top of the Feb. 16, 2005, statement, there was an admonition from American Express in bold letters: “Your account is 30 days past due.” The warning was repeated again on top of the March bill, this time with a delinquency charge of $39.78 added. Harris said that these past-due payments had been the party’s responsibility because they were related to business charges that were supposed to be paid by the party.
The problems with bill paying only worsened in the coming years. For nine consecutive months in 2006 and 2007, the past-due warning appeared at the top of Rubio’s statements. In one month alone, his card was assessed a $388 delinquency fee.
Many of the charges on the card looked like legitimate business expenses — the drumbeat of schmoozing by a rising politician. But he also used the card for expenses large and small that appeared to be more personal, including $10,000 for 20 rooms at a luxury plantation resort.
Rubio’s American Express spending first surfaced during the 2010 campaign in reports by the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times.
Rubio accused one of his GOP primary opponents — then-Gov. Charlie Crist — of leaking information about the card to the media. He reiterated that allegation last week in New Hampshire after Trump’s attacks.
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Rubio has had long-standing struggles with money.
When he entered the Florida legislature in 2000, he was making $72,000 a year as a lawyer at a Miami law firm. But he pegged his net worth at zero in his first three required annual financial disclosure forms.
By 2002, he was making more money, drawing in $96,000 at another law firm, plus a $28,702 legislative salary. But his balance sheet looked even worse. His net worth had sunk below zero — to negative $103,000.
Rubio’s management of campaign cash also seemed chaotic. He formed two political committees and doled out money to relatives for services and expenses. He grappled with the handling of credit cards for committee business as he criss-crossed the state campaigning among his legislative colleagues for support to be elected House speaker, Rubio recalled in his 2012 memoir. He named his wife, Jeanette, as treasurer of one of the committees.
“That decision proved to be a disaster,” Rubio wrote. “I often used my or Jeanette’s personal credit cards to pay for many of the campaign’s expenditures. When I received my statement I would spend hours trying to figure out which were political, and which were personal.”
Rubio’s wife usually didn’t join him on trips, but when it came time to pay bills, Rubio wrote, “she had to jog my memory to determine which credit card purchases were campaign expenditures, sometimes weeks after I had made them. It was an imperfect accounting system, to say the least.”
Rubio’s rising stature in Tallahassee gave him access to an even larger source of money: the Republican Party of Florida. In early 2005, when Rubio was 33 years old, the party gave him the American Express card that he would use over the course of four years. In his memoir, Rubio says it was a credit card, the same term used in an internal audit by a firm hired by the party. But Rubio has also said it was a “charge card” because balances were supposed to be paid off each month.
In his memoir, Rubio said he spent about $160,000 on his card between January 2005 and October 2008. However, until Saturday’s disclosures, his spending in 2005 and 2006 has remained largely unknown except for a few nuggets — such as the plantation resort — that have been reported over the years or were included in his book.
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Rubio racked up dozens of charges at hotels and restaurants — not just political hot spots in Florida’s capital, but also fast-food places and a wine shop near his West Miami home. During a one-week stretch in 2007, he incurred a $1,042 charge at Marie Livingstone, a Tallahassee restaurant, and $1,465 at Walt Disney World. He has provided few details about the reasons for his trips and who he was entertaining at restaurants.
The records show that Rubio paid for his wife to take at least 12 flights from 2005 to 2008, costing more than $5,000. Most were between Tallahassee and Miami, but there were also trips to Chicago, Aspen and Washington. In the past, he has explained her travel by saying she was the first lady of the Florida House of Representatives. No such title exists officially, but it has been used by some speakers to describe their wives.
The longer Rubio had the card, the better he appeared to get at making sure the bill was paid.
In December 2008, the month after Rubio left office in the Florida House, a statement arrived asking for the last $285 he had charged.
“Your account is cancelled,” the statement read. “Please consider a Personal Card.”
You should expect that Big Gulp’s GOP rivals will continue to go after him on this topic at this week’s debate on Fox Business News.