Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Rubio, with GOP credit card in hand, lived by different rules

FILE--Sen. Marco Rubio speaks at the Miami-Dade County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner Celebration fund-raiser on Saturday, June 20, 2015, at the Double Tree Hotel in Miami.
FILE--Sen. Marco Rubio speaks at the Miami-Dade County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner Celebration fund-raiser on Saturday, June 20, 2015, at the Double Tree Hotel in Miami. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

It was the utter banality of Marco Rubio’s dubious transactions that make you cringe. Politicians can always rationalize charging a $5,000 junket to Vegas on the party credit card. But how to account for 73 cents?

Sure, he can explain charging a $275 meal at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Coral Gables on New Year’s Eve 2005 to the Florida Republican Party’s American Express credit card. Must have been party business, with an emphasis on party.

But can 13 meals under 10 bucks qualify as “party-related expenses?”

The $1,625 rung up at New York’s St. Regis hotel? No doubt our former state legislator expected luxurious accommodations when he traveled to New York on “official business.”

But a 73-cent charge at a Miami Shell station on Aug. 27, 2005? How does he explain a 73-cent expenditure on a card he damn well knew was meant for only Florida Republican Party official business? Or a $1.39 charge, same day, same card, same store? Or a $5.02 purchase on Jan. 22, 2005? Another for $5.03?

The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times reporting duo of Patricia Mazzei and Alex Leary went through four years of Rubio’s party-issued credit card statements, including long suppressed statements from 2005 and 2006. What they found were the records of someone with an insouciant indifference to the rules most of us live by.

Rubio’s campaign operatives had been sitting on those statements since the credit card spending scandal broke five years ago. When they were finally released to the public last week, some in the national press corps dismissed them as anti-climactic. Rubio had only charged $7,200 to the party card for personal wants during those two missing years. And his staff (without much in the way of documentation) asserted that Rubio had personally reimbursed American Express for those charges.

One of the more disconcerting charges was dated Oct. 15, 2006, when Rubio paid $3,756 for the installation of pavers at his West Miami home. He has since insisted that he had inadvertently pulled the wrong card from his wallet.

Except Rubio seemed to have pulled the wrong card 83 times as he racked up $3,962 at Miami-Dade service stations. Reporting by Mazzei and Leary revealed a pattern of someone who seemed to be charging everyday personal expenses to a business-only card. Books, electronic gadgets, gasoline, car repairs, flowers, fast food. Charges at Publix, Target, CVS, Walgreens, Winn-Dixie and $68.33 at the Happy Wine Store.

Rubio made other bothersome mistakes with the party card, charging the party for six flights between Miami and Tallahassee in 2007, then billing the state for the same airline tickets. (After the Herald discovered the double-billing, Rubio said he would reimburse the party.)

The rest of us, those of us who answer to real-world bosses, can only imagine how we’d deal with the call from accounting after “going Rubio” with the company credit card. “Oh, you want me to explain that $133.75 charge at a Miami barbershop. And the 73-cent item? Errr . . . can I get back to you after the election?”

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