Though the Florida U.S. Senate primary between Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio isn’t until Aug. 24, the sparks are flying as the race heats up early.
The latest: allegations that Marco Rubio charged personal items on a GOP credit card.
More than $100,000 was spent on Rubio’s GOP American Express card from November 2006 to November 2008, shortly before he left office as speaker of the Florida House, according to records the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times obtained.
The charges included $1,000 for auto repairs, $2,976 for a rental car, $765 for “computer supplies,” $68 at Happy Wine in Miami for “beverages” and “meal,” and $412 at a music equipment store for “supplies.”
Rubio described payments to a Tallahassee property management group, totaling $1,024, as personal, but the credit card records show the party paid for them.
Rubio insisted on Wednesday that he paid for all personal expenses billed to the credit card, and the rest of the charges were legitimate party expenses.
“I was as diligent as possible to ensure the party did not pay for items that were unrelated to party business,” Rubio said in a statement.
Records show that Rubio paid American Express $13,900 for his personal expenses during his term as House speaker, the Herald reported on Wednesday.
But Rubio’s campaign could not find records to explain many of the expenses charged to the card, according to the newspaper.
GOP spokeswoman Katie Gordon confirmed that the credit card was not supposed to be used for personal expenses.
According to election law experts who spoke to the Herald, IRS rules dictate that political party credit cards should cover only expenses aimed at influencing elections, including for voter registration and candidate recruitment.
Crist, who has said he does not have a Republican Party credit card, announced in May 2009 that he would not seek re-election and instead would run for the Senate seat vacated by Republican Mel Martinez.
The revelations about Rubio’s credit card came on the heels of a Newsmax interview with former Gov. Jeb Bush, who said Crist’s endorsement of the $787 billion stimulus package a year ago was “unforgiveable.”
Crist defended his support of the stimulus bill in a Newsmax interview in early February, saying it was needed to prevent Florida from falling into an “economic abyss” and saved the jobs of 87,000 police, firefighters and other public employees, plus 20,000 teachers.
He also pointed out that every Republican governor joined with him in either supporting the stimulus bill or accepting the emergency funds it provided.
Rubio was the underdog last fall until he drew attention from the tea party movement with speeches calling for less government and lower taxes. Some polls now have Rubio leading Crist by double digits.
Rubio claims he is the true conservative in the race. But Crist, who has held down taxes and spending in Tallahassee, said he is baffled by assertions that he is not conservative enough.
“I’m an anti-tax, pro-gun Republican, and I think it’s very clear that during my entire career I’ve never voted for a new tax,” he told Newsmax.
“I’ve always thought it was important to put people first, to make sure they have the opportunity to make their own decisions about their lives without the government intruding.
“If that’s not conservative, I don’t know what is.”
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