In the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, Gov. Charlie Crist is attempting to cast Marco Rubio as earmark-hungry and a lavish spender, even dubbing him "Porkus Rubio."
The Rubio campaign says Crist is no "Frugal Charlie" himself.
Rubio's evidence: a 12-day trade mission Crist took to London, Paris, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Madrid in the summer of 2008. The tab for taxpayers: more than $430,000.
"Floridians are not going to take lectures on frugality from a guy who embraced the largest spending bill in American history, stays in $2,000 a night luxury hotel suites where he racks up $1,300 in minibar charges, and doesn't pay for a dime of it himself," Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos said in a news release.
We decided to explore Rubio's claims about Crist's European trip.
The 2008 trip was billed as a way to expand trading relationships with key economic partners around the globe.
The state delegation totaled more than 90 people, including Crist's then-fiancee, Carole Rome. Taxpayers picked up the bill for more than two dozen state employees, including a photographer and nine bodyguards. A group of 65 business executives also came along, paying their own way. The business executives also pitched in to cover Crist's expenses.
To best examine Rubio's claim we turned to South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter Megan O'Matz, who was the first reporter to detail the cost of the Europe trip.
O'Matz provided PolitiFact Florida with an unpublished state document detailing Crist's expenses. The document shows that Crist had hotel rooms for a total of 11 nights. Here's the breakdown:
• London, England, 4 nights — $8,714.27;
• Paris, France, 3 nights — $4,154.46;
• St. Petersburg, Russia, 2 nights — $2,457.46;
• Madrid, Spain, 2 nights — $2,312.24.
That's a total of $17,638.43 for 11 nights, or about $1,600 a night (short of what Rubio claims). The London hotel was the most expensive, at nearly $2,180 a night, according to the document.
The other part of Rubio's claim related to minibar charges. The state document details those charges as well. Kind of.
Crist amassed a total of $1,356.29 in "food and beverage" charges for the trip. But that's not limited to minibar charges.
Stuart Doyle, a spokesperson for Enterprise Florida, the group that coordinated the trip, said the food and beverage charges account for food and drinks provided for business meetings held in the governor's room. They weren't just minibar charges. And they weren't only for Crist.
All the charges tied to Crist were paid with private dollars, not tax dollars, Doyle said.
But taxpayers still ended up on the hook for more than $430,000 to cover the expenses of Crist's government entourage, more than originally estimated.
Which brings us back to the Rubio campaign quote.
Rubio said Crist "stays in $2,000 a night luxury hotel suites where he racks up $1,300 in minibar charges, and doesn't pay for a dime of it himself."
We can break the statement down into three pieces.
The hotel. While in London in 2008, Crist spent four nights in a hotel suite that cost more than $2,000 a night. The rest of the trip, he stayed in rooms, that while still pricey, cost about half as much. For the entire trip, the average was $1,600.
The minibar. By using that term, Rubio suggests that Crist alone went on a costly binge using the fridge in his suite. But that's quite misleading. Yes, Crist's food and beverage charges for the trip totaled $1,356.29. But it wasn't just the minibar and the charges weren't just for Crist.
Who paid? Crist didn't pay for the trip out of his own pocket. But taxpayers didn't pay, either. Private business executives picked up Crist's bill.
This is a case where Rubio is mixing facts in order to paint Crist in the worst light. The campaign rightly detailed in its release that taxpayers didn't pay for Crist's overseas travel, but then in a quote and an accompanying headline suggests that taxpayers may have footed the bill.
The claim about the hotel, while accurate, focuses only on one leg of the Europe trip.
And while the campaign broadly describes the $1,300 in food and beverage charges in the news release, Rubio truncates the wording in the quote to connote a different and worse meaning. It also wrongly suggests Crist ran up the $1,300 bill alone.
Rubio may be successful in making his broader point — that Crist's trip to Europe was hardly frugal — but he could have accomplished that by sticking closer to the facts. We rate the statement Half True.