Marco Rubio Trips an Ethics Alarm

Florida Republicans have a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the proper response to a bracing ethics alarm. They can vote against Marco Rubio, the Tea Party-backed opponent of Governor Charley Crist in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.

Whatever Rubio’s virtues, ideological or otherwise, he set off the alarm with this: according to a carefully researched story in the Miami Herald, Rubio used his party credit card—his business credit card, issued to him by the GOP to use for party-related expenses only—to pay for things like:

  • $765 at Apple’s online store
  • $25.76 from Everglades Lumber
  • $53.49 at Winn-Dixie in Miami
  • $68.33 at Happy Wine in Miami
  • $78.10 for two purchases at Farm Stores in suburban Miami.
  • $412 at All Fusion Electronics, a music equipment store in Miami

In addition, he may have given the card to staffers who also charged questionable expenses on it.

Hear that alarm yet?

Rubio is now fulminating that the records were obtained and released in shady fashion by political opponents, but he’s trying to change the subject; it doesn’t address that ringing sound. Election law holds that party credit cards are to be used only for expenses directly related to winning elections, such as fundraising, voter registration and  candidate recruitment. Anything else is liable to be a violation of IRS rules for tax-exempt organizations. But this isn’t a matter of misunderstanding election laws. Rubio used his company’s credit card to pay his own bills.

Why should this disqualify Rubio for high political office? If you can’t answer that, you shouldn’t be a U.S. Senator either. This is using your employer’s money, without permission, for your own benefit—stealing, in other words. Ethically, it is virtually indistinguishable from paying your bills by skimming money from the company treasury. Rubio says he was always going to pay back the funds, which is exactly what every single embezzler says after he or she is caught.

Repeat after me, Florida voters: you don’t elect people to offices carrying the public trust when you can’t trust them. The number of legislators, state and national, who have misused and abused taxpayer funds for their own purposes just within the last ten years is so long that the list would triple the size of this post. Most of them had no prior record of financial misconduct until well after they were elected, and the opportunities for enrichment still gradually corrupted them. Does it make any sense to elect a man to the U.S. Senate who already has shown that he doesn’t comprehend or respect basic fiduciary duties? It does not.

It also makes no sense to elect leaders whose own conduct encourages, rather than discourages, unethical conduct in our society.

Why didn’t Rubio’s own ethics alarms start ringing the second he considered the unethical idea of using his party’s credit to pay for his personal needs? You should know the answer to that question too: his alarms don’t work properly. The U.S. Senate, a place famously hard on the operation of the best ethics alarms, is no place to begin repairing malfunctioning ones.

Lawyers who use their client’s funds for personal expenses get disbarred, in Florida and everywhere else, every day of the year. They get disbarred because this conduct is considered to be sufficient proof that they lack the character and ethical instincts to be trusted by future clients, and the bar associations and courts protect the public by making sure such lawyers don’t get the chance to misuse those clients’ funds too. It does not make any sense at all to apply a lesser ethics standard to a candidate for U.S. Senator.

No, Marco Rubio’s own ethics alarms aren’t ringing, but the sound is still loud and clear. Listen, Florida Republicans. It tells you all you need to know about a candidate you can’t afford to trust.

9 thoughts on “Marco Rubio Trips an Ethics Alarm

  1. This goes back to an earlier response. Someone has to vet these people. Thanks to the Miami Herald for taking on the job. If even now Rubio is doing this kind of thing, just wait until (or if) he gets elected… junkets galore, payola, earmarks for friends, bribery, and a host of other dubious/illegal enterprises.

    If in his tiny world he already feels free to misuse his tiny credit card. What happens if he actually gains some power?

      • Oh, please. You are either careful with other people’s money or you are not. I have worked for, with, and beside executives who make six figure salaries and who routinely cheat on their expense reports. The small amounts are easy to brush off as “no big deal,” because people think like you do. It’s arrogance, and it’s strong evidence of corruption.

  2. $2000 on miscellaneous expenses, and this guy carries a war chest in the millions?

    Obviously another party hack attack.

    Keep up the yellow journalism.

    • I’m so curious: what’s your point? That it’s OK to use money that isn’t yours if there’s some money you won’t steal? That’s it’s fine to steal smaller amounts? That people with access to a lot of money don’t steal smaller amounts (they do, you know.)? That it’s indelicate to call someone who steals money unethical? That it’s swell for your candidate to have no integrity, but not for the other guy? The Miami Herald story was no hack attack, and was as well-researched as a news story can be. Attacking the messenger; how pathetic.

    • Glad to see you endorse the principle that taking little things that don’t belong to you doesn’t matter if you can afford them anyway. Thinking like that gets you just the kind of representatives you deserve. It isn’t the amount, and it isn’t the fact that the expenses are “miscellaneous”—it’s the fact that this isn’t his money to spend that way. But, hey–it’s “only $2000.” Let me know when misuse of fund starts to bother you. For me, and anyone interested in responsible government, it’s immediately. You go ahead, and keep making excuses for untrustworthy pols. Good luck.

  3. I just can never imagine needing computers for a campaign, various miscellaneous food and beverage for staffers working over, things from a home improvement store for the office, etc. Yup great reporting, this guy spends money on things every other politician does.

    The only alarm I hear is the one set off by the fire exits being opened and the Democrats about to be shown the door in November.

    • From the article linked: “Election law experts say party credit cards should cover only expenses aimed at influencing elections — fundraising, voter registration, candidate recruitment — under IRS rules for tax-exempt organizations.” What part of that is so difficult to understand? The guy charged personal expenses to a fund made up of contributions that cannot be used that way. He even admits they were personal. Governing is tougher than keeping personal funds and expenses separate from business accounts…if he’s not up to that, watch out. And if he doesn’t see what’s wrong with mixing the two, then he’s untrustworthy. This isn’t hard.

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