It was largely overlooked in the post-event hype, but one of the more important moments in last week's Republican debate focused on an issue that's flown largely under the radar.
CNBC's Becky Quick reminded Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) of his "bookkeeping" troubles: "You accidentally inter-mingled campaign money with your personal money. You faced foreclosure on a second home that you bought. And just last year, you liquidated a $68,000 retirement fund. That's something that cost you thousands of dollars in taxes and penalties. In terms of all of that, it raises the question whether you have the maturity and wisdom to lead this $17 trillion economy. What do you say?"
The Florida senator replied, "Well, you just listed a litany of discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents, and I'm not gonna waste 60 seconds detailing them all."
The problem, of course, is that the question -- literally, every detail -- was entirely correct. Not one of these claims has ever been "discredited." Rubio's attempt to deflect an uncomfortable inquiry was, by any fair measure, a lie.
And now that Rubio has been elevated to the top tier in the GOP race, the issue is starting to become more important. Just yesterday, Donald Trump told reporters, in reference to Rubio, "For years I've been hearing that his credit cards are a disaster." Jeb Bush added that the issue is "fair game."
It has become legend in Florida political circles, a missing chapter in Marco Rubio's convoluted financial story: two years of credit card transactions from his time in the state House, when he and other Republican leaders freely spent party money. Details about the spending, which included repairs for Rubio's family minivan, emerged in his 2010 U.S. Senate race. But voters got only half the story because the candidate refused to disclose additional records.
Some of this is already beyond the realm of "allegations." Rubio has acknowledged his misuse
of a Republican Party credit card to purchase personal items, including using party money to repair his minivan, and charging $10,000 to attend a family reunion. The Floridian conceded several years ago that the story "looks bad,” adding, “I shouldn’t have done it that way.”
There was also an incident in which he double-billed the party and taxpayers for airline travel, though he paid back the money.
But the Tampa Bay Times' reporting
yesterday tells us the story is incomplete due to details Rubio has not yet disclosed.
Charlie Crist, Rubio's opponent in 2010, tried to make the spending an issue, but Rubio rode a tea party wave to blow past the then Republican governor, the start of national attention that has propelled him into the presidential race. Through it all, Rubio has refused to provide credit card statements from 2005 and 2006. "Those credit card statements are an internal party matter. I'm not going to release them," he told the editorial board of the Times-Union of Jacksonville in September 2010. Attempts by reporters and Rubio's rivals to obtain them have fallen flat, leading to speculation about what they might contain.
The Orlando Sentinel
’s Scott Maxwell added
over the weekend:
[Rubio] entered the Florida Legislature nearly broke and with $30,000 in credit-card debt -- but managed to live high on the hog thanks to a GOP credit card funded largely by special interests that wanted legislative favors. [...] Rubio has admitted most of this, repaying improper expenditures and expressing regret for what he called mistakes. But last week facts became "discredited attacks." [...] Rubio's baggage is his actual track record -- much of which runs counter to the virtues he claims to embrace.
Dear senator, with great hype comes great responsibility. Ready or not, the scrutiny is coming.