Marco Rubio had hoped that months ago he'd put behind him the controversy over questionable personal spending on his Republican Party credit card.
But now a Republican political consultant and former vocal Rubio supporter says Rubio told him he had charged thousands of dollars in home remodeling expenses on his state GOP American Express card.
"I raised the issue very casually, 'Are there any issues you need to worry about that could cause you a problem?' The biggest concern of his was this charge of $4,000 to $5,000 for a kitchen flooring renovation in his house that he said somehow wound up on his (party) credit card," said Chris Ingram of Tampa, adding that Rubio assured him he had paid for that charge.
The Rubio campaign dismissed Ingram as a petty campaign operative who wanted to get a job with Rubio. However, a spokesman declined to say whether Ingram's recollection was inaccurate.
"None of it is even worth me or anyone from our campaign commenting about because this is a guy who is clearly disgruntled, who has a history of making accusations like this against people he's worked for," said senior adviser Todd Harris, noting that Ingram has criticized former employers, including 2006 Senate candidate Katherine Harris.
"The bottom line is that it is absolutely untrue that party money was ever used to pay for something like this," Todd Harris said.
The Times/Herald earlier this year obtained Rubio party credit card statements from 2006 and 2007, which showed he routinely charged personal expenses on the card, from groceries to family reunion expenses. He said he paid off those expenses directly, though after the Times/Herald made those records public Rubio had to pay the state GOP $2,400 for double-billed plane flights.
Former state House Speaker Rubio of Miami is the front-runner in the U.S. Senate race against Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami.
The Crist campaign has called for greater disclosure by Rubio, such as releasing tax returns and all party credit card statements.
"Rubio already admitted to using his party credit card to the tune of $16,000 in just two years for meals, trips, car repairs and family reunions. If Rubio wasn't using political contributions as his own personal ATM for longer than that, why not release all of the credit card records?" said Crist campaign spokesman Danny Kanner.
Harris of the Rubio campaign said no further credit card records would be released.
"We would be spending the rest of the campaign answering ridiculous charges if we jumped to action every time a disgruntled political consultant made some accusation," he said. "Our campaign is going to stay 100 percent focused on the issues that got us where we are today. If Charlie Crist or Chris Ingram want to create a sideshow, they can do it together."
Ingram also writes biting commentary about politics on his Web site, IrreverentView.com. He was a critic of Gov. Crist well before his popularity sunk in the GOP, and for months Ingram touted Rubio's campaign.
He provided the Times/Herald with e-mail exchanges where he urged Rubio to release any negative information about his credit card to minimize damage.
"This has been addressed. There is no issues (sic) with my card. (I spent less in 4 years than Sansom did in 2.)," Rubio e-mailed on Dec. 23, referring to indicted former House Speaker Ray Sansom. "If there was an issue they would have released them long ago."
Ingram wrote the next day: "I hope you're right. But less … than him … is not a good defense. And if I were Charlie/Greer, I'd wait to drop this on you about a month before the primary."
Rubio responded: "There is nothing to drop. I have the statements now. It is all mostly a bunch of commercial airlines, rental cars, hotels and travel restaurants. Any personal charges were paid by (me) directly."
But after a number of Times/Herald stories about Rubio's use of party credit cards and lavish spending by political committees run by Rubio, Ingram publicly rescinded his support.
Ingram said Rubio subsequently told him that he, in fact, had not charged any home remodeling on his card, and had explanations for assorted other controversial expenses that had been revealed in the newspapers.
"It just didn't add up," Ingram said. "He had these answers that seemed to me very practiced, almost like he'd said it in his mind so many times he actually believed it."
Ingram denied ever wanting a job from the Rubio campaign, and said the only thing he'd ever mentioned was an assessment of his communications operations.
The campaign released e-mails showing that even after Ingram revoked his support of Rubio, he wanted him to speak to a lunch group he organizes in Tampa.
On his Web site Wednesday, Ingram called Rubio "a pathological liar" and said he'd decided to vote for Libertarian Alex Snitker.
"In my book, Marco's lack of trust is far worse than Charlie's. Charlie may be a lot of things, but out for personal gain (other than being elected to something) is not one of them," Ingram wrote. "Marco's want for power is different — he appears to not only want fame, but also fortune."
Adam C. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.