It is safe to assume that when it comes to financial acumen, no one will confuse U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio with Warren Buffett.
Young Master Rubio is running for president, which means in addition to being commander in chief, he would be responsible for implementing the nation’s economic policy. This would be like appointing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the U.S. surgeon general.
According to his financial disclosure statements, Rubio earns $174,000 a year to miss votes in the U.S. Senate. He hauls in an additional $22,114 a year for a part-time teaching gig at Florida Atlantic University. His wife, Jeannette, takes home a $54,000-a-year paycheck running a charity for Rubio’s South Florida political sugar daddy, Norman Braman. And the biggest recipient of the car dealer’s beneficence is ... Marco Rubio. Florida’s junior senator also has made at least $1 million in book royalties.
All in all, it is good to be Marco Rubio. But not quite good enough.
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Even with a joint income of $250,000 and lucrative publishing deals, Rubio revealed he had to cash out a retirement account worth about $68,000 because he needed “access to cash.”
Rubio explained on Fox News Sunday that since he is a presidential candidate he needs the money for stuff like spending $3,000 for a new refrigerator, replacing his air conditioner and educating his children, since “college and schools (are) getting more expensive.”
Ahem. Rubio just figured out sending the little dickens off to college gets pricey?
To be sure, it is Rubio’s money and he’s free to manage his affairs as he sees fit. Still, you have to wonder why a couple making a quarter of a million dollars a year would have to drain a retirement account to buy a refrigerator.
Virtually any accountant will caution against cashing out retirement accounts before reaching the age of 59-1/2 since the federal tax burden can be as high as 50 percent. That means Rubio, who is only 43, may have had to simply turn around and write a check to the Internal Revenue Service for as much as $34,000 — because he needed some new appliances? Presumably, Professor Rubio is not teaching a class on financial planning at FAU.
It is not unfair to ask if Rubio, despite having far greater financial resources at his disposal than most Americans — and he can always crank out another rags-to-riches memoir when the phone bill comes due — is incapable of managing his money, how he would manage the nation’s exchequer?
Would he appoint Wesley Snipes to become Treasury secretary? Bernie Madoff to assume the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve? It’s A Wonderful Life’s besotted Uncle Billy of the savings and loan named to head the Council of Economic Advisers?
It’s not much of a surprise that Rubio cashed out one of his retirement accounts because the fridge was on the fritz. While the senator certainly cuts a charismatic image on the campaign trail, it is no secret that a credit card in Rubio’s hands is a weapon of mass recession.
As Florida House speaker, Rubio was given a Republican Party of Florida credit card. No good came from this as he spent thousands of dollars on a coterie of consultants to further his career. Family members benefited, too, with $3,500 going to a company owned by his mother-in-law. Other party funds went to car repairs. In all, Rubio failed to disclose some $34,000 in charges on the state party credit card.
And former Texas Gov. Rick Perry thought he had an oooops moment.
Rubio dismissed the credit card abuse as the result of sloppiness, inexperience and a bewildering array of paperwork. That excuse might work if this was some 18-year-old in the first year of college confused about managing a checking account.
But Rubio was a law school graduate and the ambitious House speaker who treated his state party credit card as if he was one of the “Housewives of New Jersey.”
Now he is a presidential candidate who can’t get by on $250,000 a year. How much credit will that earn him in credibility?
Daniel Ruth is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.
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