GOP Senate front-runner Marco Rubio (Photo: Cliff Owen/AP)
4/21/10 (FT. LAUDERDALE, FL) – The Internal Revenue Service has launched a probe into three prominent Florida Republican Party leaders’ use of their party-issued credit cards, including former Florida House Speaker and leading GOP Senate candidate Marco Rubio. The probe’s purpose is to determine whether enough evidence exists to open a criminal investigation.
At issue is whether Rubio, then Speaker of the Florida House representing his Miami-Dade county legislative district, former state GOP chair Jim Greer and former state GOP executive director Delmar Johnson, personally benefited by charging personal expenses on their Republican Party-issued American Express cards, and failed to report those charges as income on their tax returns.
The broader issue for the public’s interest is whether these party leaders misused or double-billed tax payers for personal expenses. Rubio has already admitted to double billing the party and tax payers for a number of flights from South Florida to the state capital. Although he has promised to pay the party back for these charges, the GOP reports that no check has yet been received.
In an investigation by the Miami Herald and the St. Petersburg Times, Senate candidate Rubio charged expenses such as repairs to his personal family minivan, grocery store bills, retail purchases including wine and the Apple Store, and plane tickets for his wife to the party-issued card. Despite taxpayer subsidies for his meals in Tallahassee as a State Representative, Rubio charged numerous meals to the GOP Amex card.
Rubio said last week that he has not been contacted by federal investigators, but that getting all of this information out in the open “will be the best way to deal with it.”
The IRS investigation into Rubio, Greer and Johnson emerged out of an earlier investigation relating to former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom, who was indicted for secretly pocketing nearly $6 million from the state budget for a campaign donor’s airplane hanger.
Rubio’s main opponent for the GOP Senate nomination, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, has been hammering Rubio with his admitted double-billing for flights. Rubio’s critics, including Crist, if he decides to stay in the Republican Primary, will undoubtedly use this IRS probe as a sword to try and attack Rubio’s credibility.
Also at risk is the GOP’s own reputation in the state, with four prominent GOP leaders under scrutiny for potential financial misdeeds. Such investigations could give Democrats and Independent candidates statewide an edge over their Republican counterparts, particularly in South Florida, which has become a Democratic Party stronghold.