Marco Rubio’s Credit Card Scandal, Explained

CREDIT: AP Photo/Phil Coale

FILE -- In this May 2, 2008 file photo, then Florida Speaker of the House Marco Rubio delivers his farewell speech to the House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Fla. At right is his official portrait.(AP Photo/Phil Coale, file)

At the third Republican debate, Marco Rubio was asked a question about his personal finances. CNBC moderator Becky Quick asked Rubio to respond, among other financial issues, to the fact that he “accidentally intermingled campaign money with your personal money.”

Rubio bristled at the question, calling it “a litany of discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents.”

But Quick’s question was actually a fairly generous gloss on financial issues that have plagued Rubio for a number of years. Recent attention has focused on his inappropriate use of an American Express card and his reticence to fully account for his spending with that card. Here’s what that controversy is all about.

Where did Rubio get the credit card?

Rubio was issued an American Express card from the Republican Party of Florida from 2005 to 2008. During that time, he was the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

What was he supposed to use the card for?

According to Katie Gordon, a spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Florida, the cards were not supposed to be used for personal expenses. “The RPOF American Express card is a corporate card and is meant to be used for business expenses,” Gordon told the Tampa Bay Times in 2010.

For a political party, business expenses generally involve fundraising and campaigning.

How did this whole controversy start?

Attention about the use of the American Express cards started during the trial of Florida Rep. Ray Sanson, who was accused of official misconduct. During the trial, the records for Sanson’s Republican Party of Florida American Express card were made public and revealed rampant misuse of the card for personal expenses.

Attention then turned to others that had cards, including Rubio.

What did Rubio use the American Express card for?

Rubio used the American Express card for a number of personal expenses, including a $10,000 family reunion and $1,000 to repair his minivan. In 2010, Rubio acknowledged charging $16,052.50 during 25 months of the four years he had the card.

He still has not provided a detailed accounting of those personal expenses, which also included charges to a grocery store and a wine shop near his home.

In his book, American Son, Rubio said that over the four year period he charged about $160,000 to the card in total over the four year period.

Why do we have information about how Rubio used the card in 2007-2008 but not from 2005-2006?

Most of the information about the cards we know from statements that were leaked to the Tampa Bay Times in February of 2010. But the leak only included records over a 25-month period.

Rubio decried the leak, but released a letter providing more details about his spending over the 25-month period covered by the leak.

He has resisted calls to release all his records.

Who leaked Rubio’s credit card statements from 2007-2008?

Rubio accused former Florida Gov. Charlie Christ, his opponent for U.S. Senate at the time, of orchestrating the leak. The former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, Jim Greer, was a Crist ally.

Did Rubio reimburse the party for personal expenses charged to the card?

Rubio says he paid American Express directly each month for any personal expenses.

The Tampa Bay Times, however, said that isn’t supported by the records they reviewed. According to the paper, “some of Rubio’s personal expenses were covered by the party.” The paper also found that Rubio did not pay American Express monthly for personal expenses and didn’t pay them at all for a six month period.

Who determined which expenses were public and which were private?

That was left completely to Rubio’s discretion.

According to Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman Katie Gordon, no one at the party reviewed which expenses were deemed personal and which were billed to the party.

I don’t think it’s appropriate for the party to question the former Speaker of the House’s judgment as to when it was appropriate to use the card,” Gordon said in 2010. “The cardholders are members of the Legislature. Why would we not trust them to use their due diligence to repay personal expenses.”

Rubio decided, for example, when his minivan was damaged in a parking lot while he was attending a political event, the party should pay for a portion of the repairs and thousands of dollars for a rental car while it was being fixed.

What else did we learn from the records that were already released?

After a portion of the records were leaked to the media, it was revealed that, for certain flights, Rubio was “double-dipping.” He charged the cost of these flights to the Republican Party of Florida and the State of Florida.

After the double dipping was revealed, Rubio repaid the party about $3,000.

Has Rubio apologized for his use of the cards?

Not really. In his book, American Son, he said that “in hindsight I wish none of the [personal expenses] had ever been charged.”

When will we learn more about how Rubio used the cards?

After resisting calls to release the records for years. In February 2010, Rubio told WFLA-FM, “I think there are pros and cons to doing some public spectacle that opens up the private books of a private entity, which is the Republican Party, to media scrutiny — not to mention the impact it can have electorally, going forward.”

Rubio now says he will probably release more information “in the next few weeks.”

Is Rubio telling the truth?

Appearing on Wednesday on Good Morning America, Rubio said, “Every month, I’d go through it. If it was a personal expense, I paid it.” According to the Tampa Bay Times records, reimbursement “did not happen on a monthly basis.

Rubio previously said that he paid for charges on the American Express card with “my money.” Politifact judged the claim “mostly false.”

A complaint was filed in 2010 against Rubio with the Florida Ethics Commission. Two years later, the commission threw out the claim but said his “negligence” in his use of the card was “disturbing.”