When Florida legislature passed a ban on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers in 2005, Marco Rubio predicted it would “go down as the most meaningful institutional reform that we've made here.” Florida state law already forbade legislators from accepting gifts worth more than $100 from lobbyists, but Rubio -- who was set to become the House Speaker -- said the move would “infuse a new level of trust in our decision-making process."
Two days later, Rubio charged a $275 tab at a Ruth's Chris Steak House in Coral Gables on an American Express credit card issued by the Republican Party of Florida, an account financed by special interest groups, lobbyists, utility companies, gaming and healthcare associations. Over a four-year period, Rubio charged $182,000 on the state party card, including $22,000 in personal expenses that his campaign says he directly repaid to American Express.
Last week, Rubio’s presidential campaign released receipts from his use of his state GOP credit card in 2005 and 2006, in response to new criticism from his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. That release showed that Rubio spent $65,000. His campaign touted media reactions dismissing the spending as a “nothingburger.”
But the disclosures did not account for spending by a constellation of other political groups that Rubio controlled when he was a state lawmaker. Records show that at least some of those groups spent big money on meals, travel and expense reimbursements.
In 2003, as a member of the Florida state House, Rubio created a special fundraising committee, called Floridians for Conservative Leadership, that could accept unlimited contributions. In the span of a year, the committee raised $228,000, with large donations from lobbyists, telecom giant AT&T, health plan manager WellCare and the state’s sugar conglomerates, Florida Crystals and U.S. Sugar. Not all of the contributors were disclosed, and some are listed simply as gold or silver memberships.
By mid-2004, the group had spent $193,000. More than a third of the committee’s money was spent on meals and travel. Some of those expenditures were made as reimbursements to Rubio and his wife, Jeanette. Other payments appear to be multiple items lumped together as single expenditures -- an uncommon arrangement -- like a $3,476 expense listed under "Citibank Mastercard" that includes hotel, airfare, meals and gas. Another $71,000 was spent on staff and consultants.
While Rubio was in the legislature in the February 2004, he created a federal 527 organization with a similar name, called Floridians for Conservative Leadership in Government. Rubio was listed as the group’s president, with his wife as vice president. The committee raised $386,000 by the end of 2004, with donations from Hewlett-Packard, Dosal Tobacco Corporation and private prison company GEO Group, according to filings with the Internal Revenue Service.
The federal group spent $316,000 by the end of 2005. The bulk of its spending was on consulting, but the committee also paid Rubio’s relatives roughly $14,000 for items wrongly described as “courier fees,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.
By 2005, Rubio was leading the Florida House Republicans’ campaign and on his way to becoming Florida House Speaker. He possessed a Republican Party of Florida credit card. In addition to many expenditures for meals and travel, Rubio made some personal charges on the card, including a $10,000 expense for a family reunion. He also double-billed the party and taxpayers for eight flights, and said he would pay the party back for those charges. Rubio’s campaign has said he paid American Express for personal purchases.
That same year, Rubio began preparing a book on policy ideas for the state of Florida titled “100 Innovative Ideas For Florida's Future.” Rubio’s ideas were generated through “Idearaisers,” town-hall style events where he solicited input from Florida’s citizens.
The Republican Party of Florida sponsored a website and spent $575,000 to promote and publish the book, according to the Palm Beach Post . The book was released in November 2006. Rubio also established a nonprofit, called “100Ideas.org,” designed to push the policy ideas in his book.
The group has not fully disclosed its donors, but Rubio said in 2008 that they had received $25,000 contributions from the Florida Medical Association and Agro-Industrial Management, according to the Miami Herald. Though the group does not itemize its expenditures, in 2008 they disclosed that they spent $56,664 on conferences and meetings and $72,500 for consulting.
While financial disclosure records show Rubio did not personally profit from the book sales, 100Ideas.org spent $291,000 promoting Rubio and the book in the years leading up to his first statewide run for office.