AMEXgate: don’t ask, don’t tell

The most striking paragraph from today’s Miami Herald/St. Pete Times update on Marco Rubio’s spa cuts and Macaraoni Grill habit with his Republican Party credit card is this:

I don’t think it’s appropriate for the party to question the former speaker of the House’s judgment as to when it was appropriate to use the card … The cardholders are members of the Legislature. Why would we not trust them to use their due diligence to repay personal expenses?”

That was Katie Gordon, spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Florida, and what she’s saying is pretty stunning. The party simply didn’t bother to enforce the laws governing the spending of donors’ money, which is, by law, only to be for the purposes of influencing elections, because, well, these are powerful lawmakers and therefore we just have to trust their judgment. Really? Isn’t that the same rationale that federal regulators used to let Bernie Madoff steal billions of dollars? He was a powerful, successful man and so they just assumed he knew what he was doing? The money that Marco Rubio spent on himself (he admits that “89 percent” of his credit card bills were for party purposes, meaning that 11 percent was spent outside the rules) didn’t belong to him. It belonged to the donors to the Florida Republican Party, who I’m sure did not intend by their donations to the contribute to the upkeep of Marco Rubio’s minivan (an expense for which he did NOT reimburse the party.) Another key clip from the article:

Attorney General Bill McCollum, the Republican front-runner to replace Crist as governor, said of releasing the credit-card records: “To open this at the present time could compromise a criminal investigation.”

I’ve reached out to Beth Reinhard and to the A.G.’s office to clarify what investigation he’s referring to. One more:

The IRS limits tax-exempt organizations like political parties to spending money only on influencing elections. Rubio did not make monthly payments to American Express and made no contributions to the bill during one six-month stretch in 2007, records show.

Miami attorney Ben Kuehne, an election law expert who has represented the Florida Democratic Party, said some of Rubio’s expenses “sound incredibly personal, not political.”

“This is party money. Not the elected officials’ money,” he said. “The person using the card shouldn’t be the one who determines whether it is business or personal. From a legal point of view there are red flags all over the place.”

That might be the understatement of the year.

Meanwhile, the Times/Herald reporters reveal that Rubio also double-billed the Republican Party of Florida for his airline travel, which may or may not have involved the “first lady of the Florida House.” He now says that “out of an abundance of caution,” he’ll pay the money back. You’re welcome.

And the SPTimes editorial board hits Rubio and the Florida GOP for their sense of entitlement:

Why should a powerful state legislator use political contributions to shop at the neighborhood wine shop, visit a tony Miami barbershop and repair the family minivan? That is the question former House Speaker Marco Rubio should be answering rather than whining about how his profligate spending became public. The Republican U.S. Senate candidate’s defense of his use of a political party credit card for private expenses reflects a sense of entitlement that is all too pervasive among elected officials in Tallahassee.

… Rubio did not explain why he used a party credit card for personal expenses when his 2008 financial disclosure shows he earned $414,000. He instead complained that the credit card statements became public. But how they became public is not the issue. The real issue is that all statements for credit cards handed out by the state Republican Party should have been public all along. Perhaps then Rubio would have acted more responsibly.

Money contributed to the state Republican Party for the purpose of influencing elections bolstered the personal lifestyle of an elected official holding one of Florida’s most powerful offices. That is not the purpose of political contributions. New Republican Party chairman John Thrasher, a state senator from St. Augustine, needs to release all of the credit card statements if the party is to move forward. The Internal Revenue Service also should be knocking on the party’s door to see the books.

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4 Responses to AMEXgate: don’t ask, don’t tell

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