AMEXgate: GOP donors bought Rubio wine, dinners at Macaroni Grill

Credit card records reveal that former FL House Speaker Marco Rubio enjoyed the benefits of a party-issued credit card.

What can a Republican Party credit card do for you?

• $765 at Apple’s online store for “computer supplies.”
• $25.76 from Everglades Lumber for “supplies.”
• $53.49 at Winn-Dixie in Miami for “food.”
• $68.33 at Happy Wine in Miami for “beverages” and “meal.”
• $78.10 for two purchases at Farm Stores groceries in suburban Miami.
• $412 at All Fusion Electronics, a music equipment store in Miami, for “supplies.”

Plus a half dozen plane tickets for the wife, $1,000 in repairs to the family minivan, $130 in services (haircut? Harold Ford-style mani-pedi???) from chichy Churchill’s barbershop in Miami, and “Three payments to a Tallahassee property management group, which Rubio described as personal, were paid by the party, totaling $1,024, state and credit-card records show.”

No wonder Marco didn’t want his AMEX records released. According to Beth Reinhard and Scott Hiasen’s reporting, former House Speaker Rubio went to town on his party-issued American Express card, which is kind of a problem, rules-wise:

… party spokeswoman Katie Gordon said the card was not supposed to be used for personal expenses. “The RPOF American Express card is a corporate card and is meant to be used for business expenses,” she said when asked about the party’s policy.

IRS rules for political parties, which are tax-exempt, require that their donations go exclusively toward influencing elections.

Meanwhile, Charlie Crist is gleefully pouncing on Mr. Fiscal Conservative’s liquor purchases and high living lobbyist lifestyle, and Rubio is belatedly explaining his credit card usage, and blaming Camp Crist for the leaks, in a letter to John Thrasher, the in-coming party chairman:

As I mentioned to you on Monday, I applaud your call for a full forensic audit of the RPOF. Our Party’s generous donors deserve to know how their money was spent, and often misspent, during the previous administration. We must do this not to simply rehash what has already happened, but instead to learn from the mistakes of the past so they will never be repeated.

I have always agreed with your position that these issues are internal party matters which must be decided by the Republican Party of Florida, and not in the court of public opinion through selective information leaked to the media. As you know, I have maintained that I would not unilaterally disclose my personal American Express statements. I made this decision out of respect for any internal review process a new chairman might initiate, and to avoid creating a media circus that at best would be a distraction, and at worst could actually hurt our Party.

However, as I told you Monday, at least one Florida media outlet is now in possession of my statements. No one other than the previous RPOF administration and myself had access to this information. It is clear these internal documents were taken from the RPOF by former Chairman Jim Greer, or someone working for him, and were leaked to the media by the Crist Campaign.

These actions are an appalling act of political desperation. The idea that the former chairman of the RPOF, or those working for the Governor, would selectively leak internal RPOF documents is disturbing. But sadly it is not surprising because these are the very men who put the party in the mess it is in today. The Florida GOP under Jeb Bush was never run with this sort of arrogance, mismanagement, lack of integrity and lack of leadership.

As to the charges themselves, Rubio offers the following, with an unsubtle slap at Jim Greer for flourish:

During the period in question, there was no formal process provided by the Party regarding personal charges made on an AMEX account. At no time during my four years as a cardholder did the party ask me to provide additional information about, or personally pay, any of the charges I submitted for payment. I always took it upon myself to identify and directly pay American Express for all non-official expenses. During the two-year period in question, I made $16,052.50 in direct payments to AMEX to cover non-party related expenditures.

To the greatest extent possible, I made sure the Party never paid for any personal charges. In fact, all of my statements were- at least I certainly hope they were- reviewed and approved by former Chairman Jim Greer or others designated by him.

Meanwhile, Erick Erickson sees Rubio’s Jim Greer, and raises him a Charlie Crist:

There is growing speculation that Charlie Crist is going to run as a independent candidate in Florida as he continues sinking in the polls. Just a few weeks ago, Crist and Vice President Biden were caught having a private meal together in Miami. In addition, Crist has returned to embracing the Obama stimulus fraud. Either he’s going Democrat or he’s going independent.

Before he goes, however, Crist is determined to do everything possible to run a scorched earth campaign against Marco Rubio. The latest is beyond the pale. Crist has taken the private credit card records of the Republican Party of Florida and leaked them to the press.

The only records leaked, of course, were those of Marco Rubio. As the Speaker of the House in Florida, Rubio had a credit card with the Florida GOP. He used it to help get Republicans elected, though some of the charges were personal. Rubio reimbursed the Florida GOP for the personal expenses.

That hasn’t stopped Charlie Crist from misappropriating the records to smear Rubio. But for perspective, Charlie Crist’s hand picked Director of the GOP in Florida charged in one month what Rubio charged in two years.

Wow, Erick, accusing the governor of Florida of stealing the party’s credit card records? Isn’t that, like, slander? And while we’re dishing rumors, I wonder what the IRS thinks about Rubio and his fellow party people’s spending … Politico’s Ben Smith explains:

… the way this kind of story can become truly damaging — for him and for other Florida Republicans — is if it emerges that they spent party money on their own and didn’t pay taxes on the imputed income. It’s often the taxing, not the spending, that brings pols down in situations like this.

Smith goes on to say that if Rubio repaid the money, his troubles are over, but that’s not quite true. Election laws are very specific, including about what kinds of expenses are permissable with a party or corporate credit card, period. Terrence Pinder, a local politician in Opa-locka, got indicted for spending far less than Rubio did on his city-issued credit card. The last few paragraphs of the Reinhard/Hiasen story are telling, because they go to the issue of Rubio’s authenticity as a “fiscally conservative,” outsider, anti-politician. Rather, he appears to have been a politician in the tradition of Sarah Palin (without the tanning bed.):

When Rubio became speaker, he spent about $400,000 in tax dollars to remodel offices and build a members-only dining room so lawmakers rushing to meetings or in the throes of negotiations would not have to leave the Capitol to eat.

The GOP also paid more than $7,000 for Rubio’s flights between Tallahassee and Miami during the 2007 and 2008 sessions, the records show.

How does building a “members only” dining room fit in with Rubio’s supposed tea party ethos? How does spending donors’ hard-earned money at Macaroni Grill fit in? How does getting a $130 haircut make him any different than, say, John Edwards, who Republicans derided as a phony for getting pricey hair-dos? The bottom line is that the narrative Marco Rubio has constructed about himself over the last several months, and that the RedStaters and tea party people have sold, mostly to themselves and the credulous punditocracy, is an utter fraud. He’s just another politician. Republican voters can prefer him over Charlie Crist if they want, but they cannot credibly claim that he’s somehow special, new or unique in the world of high-living, pampered, lifestyle-focused politics. The bottom line, from Reinhard/Hiasen:

Election law experts say party credit cards should cover only expenses aimed at influencing elections — fundraising, voter registration and candidate recruitment — to adhere to IRS rules for tax-exempt organizations.

“If you can look at an IRS agent with a straight face and say this was for electioneering purposes, that’s fine. If you can’t, you shouldn’t do it,” said Tallahassee lawyer John French. “It’s got to pass the smell test.”

It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

UPDATE: Team Rubio pushes back with what seems to be an old video.

UPDATE 2: A paragraph from the Herald/SPTimes AMEXgate story is worth further examination:

Rubio’s campaign could not find records to explain many of these expenses Wednesday night. But Rubio stressed that GOP staffers also may be responsible for some expenses because they also had access to the credit card.

Did Marco try to throw RPOF staffers under the bus?

And the Herald’s Marc Caputo weighs in:

On Saturday, the RPOF chose a new chairman: Sen. John Thrasher. A Thrasher spokeswoman then said that the individual statements will remain confidential.

Going forward, the individual credit-card statements will likely remain shielded from public scrutiny. Thank a Thrasher-chaired Ethics and Election Committee vote for that. It passed legislation last week that, among other things, ensures party credit-card statements remain shielded from public view.  Thrasher said the legislation “doesn’t prevent anyone who had a credit card from giving that stuff up.”

It’s not as if billing records aren’t leaking out. Just ask a defensive Marco Rubio today about his AmEx charges. Then there’s The Hard Rock London and Rubio’s indicted successor as House Speaker, Ray Sansom. And don’t forget Delmar Johnson’s golfing in Cali.

Republicans say the individual statements shouldn’t be disclosed because RPOF, like the Florida Democrat Party, is private. Also, credit-card charges are somewhat disclosed in campaign finance reports.

But it’s not clear who spent what money, where and when — especially in the past few years when guys like convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein or accused scammer Dr. Alan Mendelsohn were raising money for the party to maintain political control in Florida.

Meanwhile, I spoke to a tea party leader by email today, who acknowledged that it’s a shame that the “movement” behind Rubio will probably look the other way.

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3 Responses to AMEXgate: GOP donors bought Rubio wine, dinners at Macaroni Grill

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