Monday, February 19, 2018
Politics

PolitiFact Florida: Trump attack inaccurately implies Rubio traded auto insurance vote for house sale

Billionaire Donald Trump likes to talk about his money-making prowess, but lately, he's taken to the airwaves to imply GOP presidential primary rival Marco Rubio has cut deals of his own as a Florida lawmaker.

In an ad we first saw March 7, Trump's campaign said Rubio had a history of shady shenanigans as Florida's House speaker. The commercial included a dig about Rubio suspiciously changing his stance on an issue after money changed hands.

"As a legislator, he flipped on a key vote after making a quick $200,000 from selling the house to the mother of the bill's lobbyist," the ad said.

Trump's campaign didn't elaborate for us, but it appears Rubio wasn't guilty of much more than a somewhat odd coincidence in the middle of some protracted legislating.

Let's start by going back to 2007 and introducing Rubio's former West Miami neighbor, a chiropractor named Mark Cereceda.

Cereceda was the lobbyist in question here, although calling him that is technically incorrect. We could find no record of him being registered as a lobbyist with the state in 2007 or any other year. He did, however, have a vested interest in the renewal of a type of auto insurance called personal injury protection, or PIP. And he let Rubio know about it.

In 2007, the state's mandated PIP coverage was going to expire. The law required $10,000 in coverage that paid for accident injuries to drivers and passengers, no matter who was at fault. It cost about $100 or $200 per year.

Then-Gov. Charlie Crist and the state Senate wanted to extend coverage when they met for the 2007 legislative session. But Rubio and some House members weren't fans, saying the PIP system encouraged too much fraud.

Cereceda made it a personal mission to change Rubio's mind.

He joined other doctors and chiropractors in a campaign to pressure Rubio to keep the PIP mandate alive. He went to Tallahassee to meet with Rubio. He organized demonstrations at Rubio's West Miami office. He hired planes to fly banners over Rubio's home and office.

And, curiously, he was tied to Rubio another way at the same time: His mother, Nora Cereceda, was buying Rubio's house.

Back in February 2003, Rubio paid $175,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in West Miami that was 1,340 square feet. He sold it to Nora Cereceda in April 2007 for $380,000 in a cash sale. That accounts for the $200,000 to which Trump's ad is referring.

Interesting, right?

Well, the amount itself wasn't so bizarre. Keep in mind, this is after the housing bubble made home prices go haywire. Paying $380,000 wasn't unheard of for a house that size that year.

The Miami-Dade Property Appraiser considered it a qualified sale at fair market value.

Both Rubio and Mark Cereceda have insisted the transaction was completely unrelated to the PIP issue. It just so happened that Cereceda and Rubio were neighbors, and Rubio's house was for sale.

Nora Cereceda's husband had died, and she wanted to live near her son. She was a retiree with money from a life insurance policy, so the cash sale isn't so unusual. That's especially true in Florida, which routinely is among the leading states in cash real estate transactions.

The house sale closed April 13. Three weeks later, on May 4, the Legislature adjourned with no deal on PIP. Rubio didn't budge on his demands for more fraud protections, and state mandates for coverage were scheduled to sunset Oct. 1.

But about that flipped vote …

Rubio wrote a letter to Crist on Sept. 28, months after the sale, asking the governor to include "property tax reform and mandatory auto insurance" to the list of issues to address at a previously called Oct. 3 special session.

Rubio said in the letter that both the House and the Senate had worked on reforms that would foster an agreement on PIP. He credited then-House Majority Whip Ellyn Bogdanoff for creating "sensible and comprehensive anti-fraud legislation."

Crist agreed, and legislators reached a compromise, adding three measures to defray fraud. The final bill limited the prices that some medical facilities and doctors could charge for nonemergency care. It also required PIP clinics be owned or supervised by licensed doctors, and added $2 million to the state budget to hire more antifraud investigators.

The House passed the bill 105-4, with Rubio voting yes. The Senate voted 37-0.

Rubio's campaign didn't comment on the ad to PolitiFact Florida, other than to point out the accusation had been proved incorrect years ago when Crist tried to use it against him during the 2010 U.S. Senate campaign.

Technically, it's impossible to say Cereceda had no influence on Rubio. But Rubio didn't say he would never approve a PIP extension, just that he wanted more protections. The near-unanimous vote in the House shows lawmakers overwhelmingly approved of the changes.

Trump's claim has a basis in real events, but there are several problems with the ethical implication he's making about Rubio's time in the Legislature. We rate the statement Mostly False.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/florida.

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