Marco Rubio’s Credit Card Scandal Explained

Intro

Marco Rubio’s time as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives resulted in several financial scandals where he mismanaged taxpayer money. In addition to the criticism he received for his excessive spending on staff salaries, lavish office renovations, and an exclusive members-only dining room, Rubio has been involved in a number of other ethical scandals in the past – the biggest of which is his misuse of the state Republican Party’s credit card for personal expenses.

Rubio’s credit card usage recently came under criticism within the GOP primary; in an attempt to put the scandal to rest, Rubio finally released his sought-after American Express statements from 2005 and 2006 that he had been refusing to release for years. News outlets, however, noted that these statements only raised more questions because some information still remains undisclosed.

 

Rubio’s Excessive Spending and Misuse of Political Donations

In 2008, Florida newspapers discovered that Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer used the party’s credit card for personal expenses.[1] This sparked ethics complaints and investigations by the Internal Revenue Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and U.S. Attorney’s Office,[2] leading to Greer being convicted and sent to jail in 2013.[3] During the course of the investigation, it emerged that Rubio had also used the party credit card for personal expenses totaling at least $16,000.[4] The state Republican Party refused to say which elected officials held party credit cards and what expenses had been charged to them,[5] and lumped all charges together by filing credit card statements electronically with the state to hide exactly who had spent what.[6] When Greer went to trial, his lawyer said that Greer “was falling on the sword for a lot of other folks”;[7] Rubio was expected to have to testify during the trial.[8]

Rubio had a state GOP credit card in his wallet from 2005 to late 2008.[9] In Rubio’s hands, the party’s card was used to charge more than $182,000, with at least $22,000 going to strictly personal expenses.[10] This included $10,000 for his own family reunion,[11]charged on the day he was sworn in as speaker of the Florida House.[12] Rubio blamed his travel agent for the mistake and said that he repaid the charge.[13] Rubio also used the card to charge $3,756 for stone pavers at his own home.[14] He claimed he repaid this charge as well, but he has dodged direct questions about the incident.[15] On July 31, 2006, Rubio spent $715.28 at Syms department store in New York City for what he described as “apparel accessories”[16]; whether he use the party’s card to buy suits, shoes, cufflinks, or other items is known only to him.

 

What is known is that Rubio also used the party’s credit card to pay for:

  • thousands of dollars for meals[17] and car repairs[18]
  • $133 for a haircut and other items at a barbershop[19]
  • $1,348 for flowers[20]
  • $765 at the Apple Store[21]
  • $412 at a Miami music store,[22] and
  • $68 at “Happy Wine,” a wine store near his home in West Miami .[23]

To see these and other charges on the RPOF credit cards, visit the Florida Times-Union’s online database athttp://news.jacksonville.com/db/gopexpenses/index.php.

His personal charges were not limited to his own party credit card, though. According to the Tampa Bay Times, “Rubio also relied on the party card of his political adviser, Richard Corcoran, to pay for many of his political expenses. Some of Rubio’s personal expenses wound up on that card too.”[24] Though Rubio repeatedly claimed to repay the party for his personal expenses, PolitiFact has rated his claim that the charges on the party’s credit card were made with “my money” as “Mostly False.”[25] This means that at least some of Rubio’s personal expenses were paid for by political donations to the Republican Party of Florida.

In a clear sign that Rubio realized his spending – and that of his GOP colleagues – was out of line, he wrote in a letter that he feared that making the credit card records public “could actually hurt our Party.”[26]

 

Double-Billing Taxpayers and Republican Party Donors

One of the more notable credit card problems for Rubio came about when it was discovered that he received taxpayer reimbursements from the Florida House of Representatives for flights he had also charged to the state Republican Party’s credit card – meaning he was being “reimbursed” for personal expenses he did not personally pay.

As a result, Rubio faced attacks for double-billing the Republican Party of Florida and Florida taxpayers for plane tickets costing nearly $3,000.[27] He once again blamed his travel agency despite the fact that the agency had only booked two of the six flights in question.[28] Who charged the remaining double-billed flights remains a mystery. While Rubio did eventually agree to reimburse the Republican Party of Florida for the double-billed flights,[29] he did not personally pay for his wife’s plane tickets, claiming she was entitled to travel at taxpayer expense because she was the “first lady of the Florida house”[30] – a position that does not actually exist.[31]

In addition, Rubio claims he reviewed the credit card statements monthly and he also signed his own reimbursement forms, meaning he should have been fully aware of all of his charges.[32]

 

Failure to Pay His Bill on Time

Rubio’s misuse of the card extended to paying his monthly bill. During the four years he had a party credit card in his pocket, payments on the card were late 21 times – resulting in his account being “assessed delinquency charges seven times, adding up to $1,639.47.”[33] This began with the very first month Rubio had the card, and “[t]he problems with bill paying only worsened in the coming years. For nine consecutive months in 2006 and 2007, the past-due warning appeared at the top of Rubio’s statements. In one month alone, his card was assessed a $388 delinquency fee.”[34] On more than one occasion, Rubio’s bill stated his account was more than 30 days past due.[35]

“Rubio has maintained that he paid out of his pocket for any personal expenses on the American Express card,”[36] but his campaign claimed it is unable to provide records of Rubio’s payments because the bank statements are too old to retrieve.[37] The American Express statements alone lack the required information “to independently corroborate which purchases were personal and which were political,” as well as who actually made the payments[38] – the RPOF or Rubio.

This blatant financial mismanagement, however, is not new to Rubio: According to the Washington Post, “Rubio has had long-standing struggles with money.”[39] The New York Times described Rubio’s recently released credit card statements from 2005-2006 as “reinforc[ing] the image of a politician who has long struggled with messy finances, at home and in his career.”[40] Rubio himself even admitted in his 2012 memoir that his management of his personal and RPOF credit cards was “a disaster,” writing that when he reviewed his statements, he “would spend hours trying to figure out which [charges] were political, and which were personal.”[41]

 

Marco Rubio’s Many Untrue Claims

Since the scandal broke in 2010, Rubio has repeatedly misled the public about it.

In 2010, Rubio released a statement saying, “I was as diligent as possible to ensure the party did not pay for items that were unrelated to party business. There was no formal process provided by the party regarding personal charges.”[42] Why? Because, as RPOF spokeswoman Katie Gordon told the Tampa Bay Times, “The RPOF American Express card is a corporate card and is meant to be used for business expenses”[43] – not personal expenses – and this is spelled out in the party’s “Employee Policies & Procedures Manual,” which “stated the cards were ‘for RPOF business use only.’”[44]

Rubio relied heavily on claims that were later discredited as he tried to defend his spending and put the issue to rest:

 

Rubio claimed he paid the charges monthly…
  • But records indicate there were significant periods where no payments were made – including a six-month stretch in 2007,[45] and Rubio’s American Express account was “assessed delinquency charges seven times, adding up to $1,639.47.”[46]

Rubio claimed his own credit was at stake…
  • But American Express and fact checkers said that was not true – his credit would not have suffered for non-payment.[47]

Rubio claimed the state party never paid for any of his personal expenses…
  • But in truth the party did pay for his personal expenses and Rubio repaid the party for some of them at a later date.[48]

Rubio claimed his expenses were disclosed…
  • But most of his expenses have yet to be disclosed,[49] hence his new promise to release them following years of refusals.[50]

Rubio claimed the issue was discredited…
  • But PolitiFact ruled this claim “False”[51] and Rubio’s scandal remains a legitimate line of inquiry into his personal code of ethics – or lack thereof.

Despite the fact that all of Rubio’s claims were debunked, he has been consistently misrepresenting the scandal for five years, claiming that this scandal “was just an issue that was contorted by my political opponents in 2010 to gain political advantage.”[52]

Marco Rubio’s misuse of the Republican Party of Florida’s credit card resulted in ethical and potential legal problems for him: He failed to disclose the personal charges on the RPOF credit card as a loan on his state ethics filings,[53] and the IRS launched a preliminary investigation into his conduct, tax records, and financial disclosure forms.[54]

Rubio claimed his misuse of political donations was investigated and no wrongdoing was found, but in truth the Florida Commission on Ethics found no evidence “corrupt intent,”[55] meaning that they could not prosecute Rubio without hard evidence, largely due to Rubio’s blanket denials. Having his behavior labeled as “irresponsible” instead of “criminal” was the better outcome for Rubio, but it raises serious questions about his judgment, ethics, and morals.

While he has not faced criminal charges for this scandal, Marco Rubio’s attempts to dismiss this serious ethical failing underscores just how irresponsible he is when it comes to managing finances. Misusing political contributions for personal gain is ethically questionable – and it’s repugnant to voters who will no doubt see him as just another corrupt politician using his position to enrich himself.

The Florida corruption case investigator “had harsh words for Rubio, saying the level of ‘negligence’ exhibited by Rubio’s confusion between GOP American Express and his own MasterCard and failing to recognize the error on monthly statements was ‘disturbing.’”[56]  Apparently Rubio’s ignorance of what’s right and wrong kept him from realizing the same fate as Jim Greer and spending time behind bars. But how can the American people believe his claims that he will be able to fix the country’s budget problems if he can’t even figure out which credit card to use or which bill to pay?

 

Key Questions To Ask Rubio

  • What additional personal expenses did Rubio charge?

  • Why is Rubio only now releasing his expenses after a five-year delay? What was “cleaned up” in the interim?

  • Why didn’t Rubio save his records of his payments to American Express for his personal expenses? Will he work with his bank to retrieve these records and release the precise dates and amounts of his payments to American Express and his reimbursements to the Republican Party of Florida?

  • Why did Rubio fail to report his delayed reimbursements to the state party as loans on his financial disclosures?

  • If Rubio charged personal expenses in 2005 and 2006, why are there only records of his direct payments to American Express in 2007 and 2008?

  • How in fact could Rubio “directly” pay American Express for his personal charges when the card needed to be paid monthly but was not always paid on time? If he did make these payments, were they properly disclosed?

  • How can the American people believe his claims that he will be able to fix the country’s budget problems if he can’t even figure out which credit card to use or which bill to pay?

 

Recommended Reading on Marco Rubio’s Credit Card Scandal

American Bridge has included key articles to read about Marco Rubio’s credit card scandal below, in chronological order.

Miami Herald: Rubio charged personal bills on GOP card

PolitiFact Florida: Rubio says GOP credit card paid with ‘my money’: Mostly False

Tampa Bay Times: U.S. attorney, IRS and FBI investigating Florida GOP credit card use

PolitiFact Florida: At debate, Rubio calls tally of financial mishaps a pack of ‘discredited attacks’: False

Washington Post: Inside Marco Rubio’s messy American Express statements

New York Times: Marco Rubio’s Use of Party Credit Card Reinforces a Picture of Messy Finances

 

 


[1] Miami Herald. December 6, 2008.

[2] Miami Herald. March 23, 2010; Bradenton Herald. April 21, 2010; St. Petersburg Times. December 2, 2010; St. Petersburg Times. “U.S. attorney, IRS and FBI investigating Florida GOP credit card use.” April 20, 2010. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/national/us-attorney-irs-and-fbi-investigating-florida-gop-credit-card-use/1088979

[3] Orlando Sentinel. “Former Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer freed from prison, halfway house.” July 11, 2014. http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2014-07-11/news/os-jim-greer-released-from-prison-20140711_1_jim-greer-florida-gop-halfway-house

[4] St. Petersburg Times. February 27, 2010.

[5] Sarasota Herald Tribune. August 16, 2009.

[6] Miami Herald. December 6, 2008.

[7] Huffington Post. “Jim Greer Pleads Guilty To Theft And Money Laundering Before Trial Begins.” February 11, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/11/jim-greer-guilty_n_2661990.html

[8] Huffington Post. “Jim Greer Pleads Guilty To Theft And Money Laundering Before Trial Begins.” February 11, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/11/jim-greer-guilty_n_2661990.html

[9] Sarasota Herald Tribune. February 26, 2010.

[10] New York Times. “Marco Rubio’s Use of Part Credit Card Reinforces a Picture of Messy Finances.” November 7, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/us/politics/marco-rubios-use-of-party-credit-card-reinforces-a-picture-of-messy-finances.html

[11] St. Petersburg Times. “The mystery of who paid for Marco Rubio’s family reunion.” March 23, 2010. http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/content/mystery-who-paid-marco-rubios-family-reunion

[12] Washington Post. “Inside Marco Rubio’s messy American Express statements.” November 7, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/inside-marco-rubios-messy-american-express-statements/2015/11/07/a6d2b240-84dc-11e5-a7ca-6ab6ec20f839_story.html

[13] St. Petersburg Times. “The mystery of who paid for Marco Rubio’s family reunion.” March 23, 2010. http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/content/mystery-who-paid-marco-rubios-family-reunion

[14] New York Times. “Marco Rubio’s Use of Part Credit Card Reinforces a Picture of Messy Finances.” November 7, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/us/politics/marco-rubios-use-of-party-credit-card-reinforces-a-picture-of-messy-finances.html

[15] WTSP. “Former GOP Chair Jim Greer opens up for the first time to 10 News Investigators.” September 11, 2011. http://www.wtsp.com/news/article/208339/8/Former-GOP-Chair-Jim-Greer-opens-up-for-the-first-time-to-10-News-Investigators; St. Petersburg Times. “Former fan says Marco Rubio charged home remodeling on GOP credit card.” September 24, 2010. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/elections/former-fan-says-marco-rubio-charged-home-remodeling-on-gop-credit-card/1123658

[16] Politico. “New Rubio credit-card data show less spending.” November 7, 2015. http://www.politico.com/story/2015/11/rubio-credit-cards-215622

[17] St. Petersburg Times. “The mystery of who paid for Marco Rubio’s family reunion.” March 23, 2010. http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/content/mystery-who-paid-marco-rubios-family-reunion

[18] St. Petersburg Times. “Records show Marco Rubio spent thousands with GOP credit card.” February 24, 2010. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/legislature/records-show-marco-rubio-spent-thousands-with-gop-credit-card/1075692

[19] Tampa Bay Times. “Marco Rubio’s $130 haircut. Or was it mani-pedi? Moisturizing treatment?” February 24, 2010. http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/content/marco-rubios-130-haircut-or-was-it-mani-pedi-moisturizing-treatment

[20] Miami Herald. February 24, 2010; Florida Times-Union. “RPOF credit card expense database.” Accessed May 24, 2015. http://news.jacksonville.com/db/gopexpenses/index.php?action=details&cid=18&limit=25&s=0&l=717

[21] Miami Herald. “Rubio charged personal bills on GOP card.” February 25, 2010. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/elections-2016/marco-rubio/article18166505.html

[22] Miami Herald. “Rubio charged personal bills on GOP card.” February 25, 2010. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/elections-2016/marco-rubio/article18166505.html

[23] http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/elections-2016/marco-rubio/article18166505.html

[24] Tampa Bay Times. “Marco Rubio campaign releases previously undisclosed GOP credit card statements.” November 7, 2015. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/national/hedy-goes-here-and-here-xy-for-rubio-cardy/2253087

[25] PolitiFact Florida. “Rubio says GOP credit card paid with ‘my money.’” March 11, 2010. http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2010/mar/11/marco-rubio/rubio-gop-credit-card-my-money/

[26] Marco Rubio Letter to John Thrasher, via St. Petersburg Times. February 24, 2010.

[27] Tampa Bay Times. “Marco Rubio says double-billing of nearly $3,000 for flights was ‘mistake.’” February 26, 2010. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/legislature/marco-rubio-says-double-billing-of-nearly-3000-for-flights-was-mistake/1076068

[28] Florida Commission on Ethics. “Complaint No. 10-073.” Filed June 25, 2012.

[29] New York Times. “Rubio to Reimburse G.O.P. for Flights.” February 26, 2010. http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/26/rubio-to-reimburse-g-o-p-for-flights/; Tampa Bay Times. “Marco Rubio says double-billing of nearly $3,000 for flights was ‘mistake.’” February 26, 2010. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/legislature/marco-rubio-says-double-billing-of-nearly-3000-for-flights-was-mistake/1076068

[30] St. Petersburg Times. “Marco Rubio says double-billing of nearly $3,000 for flights was ‘mistake.’” February 27, 2010. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/legislature/marco-rubio-says-double-billing-of-nearly-3000-for-flights-was-mistake/1076068; St. Petersburg Times. “Records show Marco Rubio spent thousands with GOP credit card.” February 24, 2010. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/legislature/records-show-marco-rubio-spent-thousands-with-gop-credit-card/1075692

[31] Washington Post. “Inside Marco Rubio’s messy American Express statements.” November 7, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/inside-marco-rubios-messy-american-express-statements/2015/11/07/a6d2b240-84dc-11e5-a7ca-6ab6ec20f839_story.html

[32] ABC News. “Good Morning America: Marco Rubio Interview.” April 4, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzABqMumY6s; Florida Commission on Ethics. “Complaint No. 10-073.” Filed June 25, 2012.

[33] New York Times. “Marco Rubio’s Use of Part Credit Card Reinforces a Picture of Messy Finances.” November 7, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/us/politics/marco-rubios-use-of-party-credit-card-reinforces-a-picture-of-messy-finances.html

[34] Washington Post. “Inside Marco Rubio’s messy American Express statements.” November 7, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/inside-marco-rubios-messy-american-express-statements/2015/11/07/a6d2b240-84dc-11e5-a7ca-6ab6ec20f839_story.html

[35] Washington Post. “Inside Marco Rubio’s messy American Express statements.” November 7, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/inside-marco-rubios-messy-american-express-statements/2015/11/07/a6d2b240-84dc-11e5-a7ca-6ab6ec20f839_story.html

[36] Washington Post. “Inside Marco Rubio’s messy American Express statements.” November 7, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/inside-marco-rubios-messy-american-express-statements/2015/11/07/a6d2b240-84dc-11e5-a7ca-6ab6ec20f839_story.html

[37] New York Times. “Marco Rubio’s Use of Part Credit Card Reinforces a Picture of Messy Finances.” November 7, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/us/politics/marco-rubios-use-of-party-credit-card-reinforces-a-picture-of-messy-finances.html

[38] Tampa Bay Times. “Marco Rubio campaign releases previously undisclosed GOP credit card statements.” November 7, 2015. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/national/hedy-goes-here-and-here-xy-for-rubio-cardy/2253087

[39] Washington Post. “Inside Marco Rubio’s messy American Express statements.” November 7, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/inside-marco-rubios-messy-american-express-statements/2015/11/07/a6d2b240-84dc-11e5-a7ca-6ab6ec20f839_story.html

[40] New York Times. “Marco Rubio’s Use of Part Credit Card Reinforces a Picture of Messy Finances.” November 7, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/us/politics/marco-rubios-use-of-party-credit-card-reinforces-a-picture-of-messy-finances.html

[41] Washington Post. “Inside Marco Rubio’s messy American Express statements.” November 7, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/inside-marco-rubios-messy-american-express-statements/2015/11/07/a6d2b240-84dc-11e5-a7ca-6ab6ec20f839_story.html

[42] Tampa Bay Times. “GOP credit card only part of Marco Rubio’s story.” November 5, 2015. http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/gop-credit-card-only-part-of-marco-rubios-story/2252778

[43] Tampa Bay Times. “GOP credit card only part of Marco Rubio’s story.” November 5, 2015. http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/gop-credit-card-only-part-of-marco-rubios-story/2252778

[44] Tampa Bay Times. “Marco Rubio campaign releases previously undisclosed GOP credit card statements.” November 7, 2015. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/national/hedy-goes-here-and-here-xy-for-rubio-cardy/2253087

[45] PolitiFact Florida. “Rubio says GOP credit card paid with ‘my money.’” March 11, 2010. http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2010/mar/11/marco-rubio/rubio-gop-credit-card-my-money/; Tampa Bay Times. “Records show Marco Rubio spent thousands with GOP credit card.” February 24, 2010. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/legislature/records-show-marco-rubio-spent-thousands-with-gop-credit-card/1075692

[46] New York Times. “Marco Rubio’s Use of Part Credit Card Reinforces a Picture of Messy Finances.” November 7, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/us/politics/marco-rubios-use-of-party-credit-card-reinforces-a-picture-of-messy-finances.html

[47] PolitiFact Florida. “Rubio says GOP credit card paid with ‘my money.’” March 11, 2010. http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2010/mar/11/marco-rubio/rubio-gop-credit-card-my-money/

[48] St. Petersburg Times. February 27, 2010; Miami Herald. “Rubio charged personal bills on GOP card.” February 25, 2010. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/elections-2016/marco-rubio/article18166505.html

[49] Palm Beach Post. February 26, 2010; Tampa Bay Times. February 12, 2013.

[50] Washington Post. “Marco Rubio says he’ll release new credit card records ‘in the next few weeks.’” November 4, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2015/11/04/marco-rubio-says-hell-release-new-credit-card-records-in-the-next-few-weeks/

[51] PolitiFact Florida. “At debate, Rubio calls tally of financial mishaps a pack of ‘discredited attacks.’” October 30, 2015. http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2015/oct/30/marco-rubio/debate-rubio-calls-tally-financial-mishaps-pack-di/

[52] ABC News. “Gaggle with Marco Rubio.” November 5, 2015.

[53] Florida Secretary of State. “Full and Public Disclosure of Financial Interest, ‘PART C – Liabilities,’ Marco Rubio, 2004-2008.”

[54] Bradenton Herald. April 21, 2010; St. Petersburg Times. “U.S. attorney, IRS and FBI investigating Florida GOP credit card use.” April 20, 2010. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/national/us-attorney-irs-and-fbi-investigating-florida-gop-credit-card-use/1088979

[55] Tampa Bay Times. “Ethics panel dismisses 2010 claim about Rubio.” July 27, 2010. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/ethics-panel-dismisses-2010-claim-about-rubio/1242622

[56] Tampa Bay Times. “Ethics panel dismissed 2010 claim about Rubio.” July 27, 2012. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/ethics-panel-dismisses-2010-claim-about-rubio/1242622; Florida Commission on Ethics. “Complaint No. 10-073.” Filed June 25, 2012.