Why should a powerful state legislator use political contributions to shop at the neighborhood wine shop, visit a tony Miami barbershop and repair the family minivan? That is the question former House Speaker Marco Rubio should be answering rather than whining about how his profligate spending became public. The Republican U.S. Senate candidate's defense of his use of a political party credit card for private expenses reflects a sense of entitlement that is all too pervasive among elected officials in Tallahassee.
It is becoming increasingly clear why the Republican Party of Florida is still resisting calls even from within its own ranks to release statements for the American Express credit cards it distributed to its top leaders until last year. While state law requires the statements to be part of a political party's quarterly finance reports, an indefensible 2005 ruling by state elections officials enables the parties to shield them.
Rubio's statements between 2005 and 2008, first reported by the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald, are the latest documents to reflect a culture in which top Republicans mixed personal and political spending with little regard for whether the expense was truly election related, as required by tax law.
Records show Rubio directly paid American Express about $13,900 over the 25 months he held a card — out of more than $100,000 in expenses. Rubio said he made sure he paid for any personal expenses. But the balance that was covered by the party includes $2,976 to rent a car in Miami for five weeks and $3,000 to a Tallahassee property management group.
Other dubious expenses paid by the party: $765 to Apple's online store for "computer supplies," $68.33 to a wine store just a mile from Rubio's home, and $412 to a Miami music equipment store. The party also paid $1,000 to a Miami garage, which Rubio said was to cover half his car insurance deductible after his minivan was damaged at a political event.
Rubio did not explain why he used a party credit card for personal expenses when his 2008 financial disclosure shows he earned $414,000. He instead complained that the credit card statements became public. But how they became public is not the issue. The real issue is that all statements for credit cards handed out by the state Republican Party should have been public all along. Perhaps then Rubio would have acted more responsibly.
Money contributed to the state Republican Party for the purpose of influencing elections bolstered the personal lifestyle of an elected official holding one of Florida's most powerful offices. That is not the purpose of political contributions. New Republican Party chairman John Thrasher, a state senator from St. Augustine, needs to release all of the credit card statements if the party is to move forward. The Internal Revenue Service also should be knocking on the party's door to see the books.