Rubio's use of campaign funds for 2002 car lease raises questions

Republican Senate nominee Marco Rubio spent heavily on four reelection campaigns as a state legislator, though he never faced a serious challenge.

Between 2000 and 2006, he shelled out about $676,451 for political consulting, television advertising and other routine campaign costs. He reimbursed himself about $11,436 for equipment, travel and meals. That's also routine.

But one payment stands out: a $1,485.55 check cut on June 12, 2002, to "Marco Rubio Bank of America Auto Finance Corp." for "auto expense," according to public records. Rubio was leasing a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee at the time from the bank, said a top advisor to his Senate campaign, Todd Harris.

Harris said Rubio was owed the money for mileage racked up during 11 months while campaigning for reelection in the central Miami-Dade district, though he didn't face an opponent. He said Rubio drove 4,070 miles, which at the Internal Revenue Service's reimbursement rate of 36.5 cents per mile, came to exactly $1,485.55.

Harris did not say why the check was made out to the bank instead of to the candidate himself.

"Florida election law allows for reimbursements for travel-related expenditures. This is no different than had the campaign just reimbursed Marco directly," Harris said.

Harris added: "If you are campaigning aggressively around Miami or within the district, the mileage adds up quickly."

Rubio's legislative district was roughly 30 blocks wide and 120 blocks long, encompassing South Miami, West Miami, Virginia Gardens, Miami Springs and parts of Coral Gables and Hialeah.

He did not seek reimbursement for mileage in any of his other House campaigns. Not when he first won public office in a special election on Jan. 25, 2000, after knocking out three Republican rivals and a Democrat. Not later that same year, when he failed to draw an opponent and automatically won reelection. And not in 2004 and 2006, when he faced only token opposition.

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