WASHINGTON — The widespread attention paid to an $8,000 election fine levied against U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's campaign underscores heightened scrutiny the star politician is receiving and renewed past issues that could hang over him as he's considered as a vice presidential candidate.
The Federal Election Commission, in a settlement made public Friday, penalized the Florida Republican for "receiving prohibited, excessive, and other impermissible" contributions during his 2010 campaign.
Contributions totaled $210,173 and the campaign "did not refund, reattribute, or redesignate these contributions within the appropriate timeframes," the FEC said. Even after the campaign was notified of the problem, it failed to return all of the money on time.
Less noticed was that Rubio's campaign also failed to disclose six contributions that fell under a 48-hour reporting rule because they came close to Election Day. The fine: $1,360.
Rubio's office declined comment Monday on the FEC fines and his campaign treasurer referred questions to the campaign. In the past, officials have said that the crush of contributions Rubio received as he became a national tea party favorite made it difficult to keep up. The campaign raised $21.7 million.
"These violations that Mr. Rubio has paid fines for are fairly routine but it's necessary and important that the FEC rigorously enforces the law because it serves the public right to know in a timely fashion who is contributing to a candidate and spending money to influence elections," said Paul S. Ryan, general counsel for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.
At least 680 campaigns failed to file more than 900 required reports since 2000, according to a recent study by the publication Roll Call.
President Barack Obama drew an $11,000 fine during his 2004 Senate race for failing to file a 48-hour report. And an FEC audit released this month said Obama failed to disclose nearly $2 million in contributions within the 48-hour reporting period, which kicks in a few weeks before the election.
Rubio, who turns 41 later this month, has become one of the most talked about politicians in Washington, even more so now that he's considered as a potential running mate to presumed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Where it could hurt Rubio — who insists he's not seeking the VP slot — is by drawing attention to past financial issues at a time when some say he's too inexperienced to be steps away from the presidency.
As a ranking state legislator, Rubio routinely charged personal expenses to his party-issued credit card from 2006 to 2008. Rubio also acknowledged double-billing state taxpayers and the party for eight plane fares to Tallahassee, calling it a mistake. He said he reimbursed personal expenses on the credit card and repaid the party for the flights.
Those issues, first reported by the Times/Herald, were part of a citizen ethics complaint during the 2010 Senate race that Rubio was using political funds to "subsidize his lifestyle."
Before becoming speaker, Rubio started two political committees to support other candidates and raised about $600,000. He failed to disclose tens of thousands of dollars in expenses and concealed others by lumping them in credit card charges.
Rubio this year asked that Florida Ethics Commission to close out its investigation into the matter, contending it would be used against him by Democrats.