Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio is defending himself following reports that he charged thousands of dollars to his Florida Republican Party credit card for personal expenses ranging from car repairs to a visit to a fancy barbershop.
The St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald reported Thursday that Rubio, who is facing off in the GOP primary against Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, charged more than $100,000 to his state party American Express card between November 2006 and November 2008 -- he was House speaker for most of that period.
The report said the charges covered not only official travel but grocery bills, wine store purchases and other seemingly personal items, and that while Rubio claimed he paid the party back for personal expenses, the Florida GOP picked up the tab for some of them. The report said, for instance, that the party paid $1,000 for repairs to his family car -- Rubio said it was damaged at a political function.
A separate St. Petersburg Times report said Rubio charged the state party $133.75 in 2006 for a visit to an upscale barbershop in Miami.
A state GOP spokeswoman also told the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald that the credit cards are not supposed to be used for personal items.
Though Rubio has positioned himself as the more conservative candidate against Crist, the governor's campaign argued that the credit card flap shows Rubio is not fiscally responsible.
But Rubio fired back in a letter to Republican Party of Florida Chairman John Thrasher, saying the information about his expenses was clearly obtained by the prior state party leadership and leaked by the Crist campaign.
"These actions are an appalling act of political desperation," Rubio wrote. He acknowledged charging $109,618.45 during the period in the newspaper report, but said 89 percent of that was for "travel, lodging, fuel, car rentals and meals related to my official work for the party."
Rubio said he ensured the party did not pick up personal charges "to the greatest extent possible."
Meanwhile, the Crist campaign blasted out an e-mail promoting the report on Rubio's expenses.
"It's clear Speaker Rubio didn't leave home without his American Express, but Florida voters, if they want someone in office they can trust with their tax dollars, need to leave Speaker Rubio at home," the e-mail said.