By John Kennedy
The News Service of Florida
Florida Republican Party officials tried to steer clear Thursday of American Express charges rang up by former House Speaker Marco Rubio, but disclosure of the reports sparked an angry exchange with Gov. Charlie Crist, his U.S. Senate rival.
The Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times reported that more than $100,000 was spent on Rubio’s card from November 2006 to November 2008, and paid $13,900 for personal expenses on the card during his years as speaker.
Rubio accused ex-Republican Chairman Jim Greer or others close to the Crist campaign of leaking the documents to the papers.
“Sadly, it is not surprising because these are the very men who put the party in the mess it is in today,” Rubio wrote in a letter to newly elected GOP Chairman John Thrasher. “The Florida GOP under Jeb Bush was never run with this sort of arrogance, mismanagement, lack of integrity and lack of leadership.”
The Crist campaign, while distancing itself from the leak, seized on details of the spending.
“It seems that when you’re a member of the Florida House and still working as a lobbyist for special interests, every expense is political, even the trip to the local liquor store paid for by Republican donors,” said Andrea Saul, a Crist spokeswoman.
“A clear pattern is emerging in Speaker Rubio’s unfortunate behavior,” she continued. “The lobbyist-politician whines and plays the victim while continuing to make every effort to hide the facts surrounding his personal financial gain while in office.”
Katie Betta, a Florida Republican Party spokeswoman, said Thursday that the party played no part in leaking the records and has no immediate plans to release American Express documents linked to Rubio or any other Republican officials.
“It doesn’t benefit us at all to have this slow trickle down of financial documents,” Betta said.
Thrasher has ordered that a forensic audit of state party records be conducted, to supplement an internal audit of party books already underway, but there is no guarantee that credit card records will be revealed publicly following the probe, Betta said.
The party is seeking to answer lingering questions about whether former Chairman Jim Greer misappropriated contributors’ money during his three years leading the party, which formally ended Saturday. Greer was accused by party leaders of mismanaging party finances, with criticism heightened by reports that ally Delmar Johnson was paid at least $408,000-a-year as executive director and chief fund-raiser.
In his letter, Rubio said 89 percent of his party expenses were for travel, lodging, fuel, car rentals and meals related to his official work for the party.