Among of the many, many unsung scandals surrounding Republican superstar Marco Rubio, along with Amexgate (which has prompted a still ongoing IRS probe) to the flooring he reportedly put into his kitchen at Republican Party expense to the Taj Mahal courthouse scandal in Tallahassee, was the discovery that Rubio, when he was a young, broke, rising star in the Florida House, used money from two leadership PACs — which were supposed to be raising money to elect Republicans in the state — to hook up members of his and his wife’s family. Well, it seems that now that he’s a tea party darling and the favorite in the U.S. Senate race, not much has changed…
As the Saint Pete Times reported back in March:
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.
Fast forward to today, and Rubio’s federal campaign…
A walk through the FEC filings for Rubio’s campaign, from 2009 through August of 2010, shows much of the more than $12 million he has raised (he has about $5.5 million left, after a record haul of $5 million last quarter) has gone to political consultants, like the Woods Herberger Group, founded by Ann Woods Herberger, a veteran of both the Bush-Cheney and Jeb Bush campaigns, and who was also on the Mitt Romney presidential campaign team last cycle, and Rubio pal Viviana Bovo. And those are just the locals. The Rubio filings are chock full of consultants from Virginia and D.C., voter targeting groups like Targeted Victory out of Virginia, voter list purchases and of course, he’s advised by frequent cable news guest Todd Harris. Throw in the money for television commercials and advertising (more than $1.1 million to one firm, Scott Howell & Company, that produces slick TV ads, just through August) and you’ve got the makings of a top drawer campaign.
None of that is unusual. After all, Rubio is now a national political star of the GOP. Only the best for a guy widely considered a strong contender for the vice presidential slot in 2012, the anchor for a Jeb Bush presidential run two years from now, or even a presidential candidate himself in ’12 or 2016 if he wins as expected in November.
Rubio’s FEC filings paint a picture of a campaign that like most political operations, careens between the lavish and the mundane. They’re full of hefty expenses for airline travel, bank fees, hotels and meals, some as small as $10 at Burger King, and others running into the hundreds of dollars at fancy restaurants in Florida, California, and Washington D.C. and $601.70 at the Luxe Hotel in Beverly Hills in June, plus more than $4,000 Rubio reimbursed himself through the end the primary.
But other expenses, tied to Rubio family members, are a reminder that throughout his political career, Rubio has kept family close. But the ring of familiarity is one the campaign would likely just as soon not have hanging around. And other expenses raise questions about whether the candidate has carried his casual spending ways with his Republican Party credit card into his current campaign.
Rubio’s year-end 2009 campaign report shows an expense for $1,700 for video production went to OC3 Productions, which is registered to Rubio’s nephew, Orlando Cicilia III.
If Cicilia’s name rings a bell, it’s because he was one of several family members Rubio put on the payroll courtesy of the aofrementioned political PACs, which were supposed to raise money for Republican candidates. Only back then, Cicilia, who is Rubio’s nephew, was classified and paid as a “courier.” along with Mauricio Giraldo, Rubio’s wife’s cousin; and Carlos Fleites, Mrs. Rubio’s half-brother.
By July of this year, OC3 Productions had moved up — way up: from courier to video production to “political strategy consulting” — and the money blew up too, from $1,000 to more than $12,000 in fees:
Fleites, another former Rubio “courier,” is also still on the payroll:
Of course, there’s nothing in the rule book that says you can’t hire family, and the expenses show the Rubio extended clan moving up in the world. But there are a few more interesting expenses in the Rubio filing that test the limits of “campaign spending”:
- $400 in May for “registration” at the Ol’ Time Gun Shop in Hudson, Florida
- $482.50 in June at the Disney Resort in CA
- $887.03 at the Apple Store in Cupertino, CA that same month
- $32,523.50 payment to a BB&T credit card
- $525.80 at B&H Photo in New York in May (they sell video and camera equipment)
- $2,340 at the Sandy Hook Fish & Rib House:
Now all of that could be perfectly normal — maybe the campaign needed new iPods to store precinct mapping info for their field staff, or camera equipment to use to document the campaign, or maybe they held a key donor meeting at Disney. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, it’s probably all good. But there is one expense in the FEC reports that really stretches the imagination to figure out what the campaign application could be:
In case that’s hard to read, that’s a $1,500 “registration fee” at the St. John Neuman School in Miami, dated March 31, 2010. If St. John’s sounds like a children’s private school, that’s because it is. The tuition for the school is $1,400 for kids pre-K through the fourth grade.
Interestingly enough, a check for the same amount was marked “voided” in the Rubio FEC filing three months later:
Maybe it was a donation? The Rubio campaign did make a donation this cycle to City Year, the charitable organization that sends high school students around the world to do a year of service. But why designate a donation as a “registration fee?” And if it was a donation, why void it a few months later?
I’ve reached out to the Rubio campaign for comment.