In a recent interview with a Wall Street Journal editorial writer, Florida Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio blasted irresponsible government spending and blamed members of both parties for getting the nation into its current economic mess. "I don't care whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge," he told the editorialist. "If you allow politicians to spend money, they'll do it."
As it turns out, that's a pretty apt description of himself. A spate of recent stories has raised numerous questions about Rubio's own fiscal rectitude, with potentially damaging consequences for his candidacy. First, there was the report by the Miami Herald and the St. Petersburg Times a few weeks ago revealing that Rubio racked up thousands of dollars in personal charges, including a now famous $134 haircut, on an American Express card provided to him by the Florida Republican Party. He later repaid those expenses, totaling about $16,000, to American Express. But some charges that the party covered as political expenses included purchases at a wine shop, a supermarket, and Apple's online store, as well as repairs to his minivan, which he claimed was damaged at a political function. More significantly, he double-billed taxpayers and the state GOP for eight flights during his tenure as Florida House speaker (he admitted that was a mistake and agreed to repay the party about $3,000).
Then, over the weekend, there was another investigation by the Herald/Times team into Rubio's use of a pair of political committees to fund all variety of lavish spending. It's worth reading the whole story, but here are just a few eyebrow-raising nuggets. Rubio "failed to disclose $34,000 in expenses including $7,000 he paid himself for one of the committees," the report noted. He "paid relatives nearly $14,000 for what was incorrectly described to the IRS as 'courier fees.' " And one of the committees "paid $5,700 to his wife, who was listed as the treasurer, much of it for 'gas and meals.' "
This comes on top of the scandal involving Ray Sansom, Rubio's handpicked budget chairman during his time as House speaker. Sansom set off a furor for steering $35 million to a Panhandle college and then taking a lucrative part-time job there. For a while, it looked like Rubio would have to testify in a House hearing on the Sansom case, but luckily for him, Sansom resigned before the proceedings got underway. Still, the fact that Rubio's choice for such a key position wound up disgraced has cast doubt on his judgment.
All of this strikes at the heart of Rubio's central argument as a candidate: that he's a trusted crusader against big government and its big-spending ways. Well, if he's managed his own economic house this unreassuringly, why should GOP budget hawks and tea-party activists believe he'd behave any more scrupulously as a U.S. senator? Now that he's the frontrunner, the scrutiny of his record will only intensify. And if more instances of fiscal irresponsibility come to light, he's going to look less and less like a refreshing new face and more and more like a run-of-the-mill politician. This offers his opponent, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the most promising opportunity yet to change the momentum in this race.