Marco Rubio on the defensive as his personal finances face renewed scrutiny
Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio (AFP Photo/Richard Ellis)

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio on Wednesday tried to dismiss attacks on his personal finances as “discredited” as opponents on both left and right cast new doubts over his use of an official Republican party credit card.

Rubio, on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, found himself facing fresh questions about the probity of his spending after the Tampa Bay Times highlighted his failure to make public all of his credit card statements from his time serving in the Florida state legislature.

Rubio has long been dogged by reports that he charged personal expenditures to an American Express credit card he received from the Republican party of Florida while serving as house speaker from 2006 to 2008. Rubio has maintained it was an honest mistake, and that he reimbursed the party with more than $16,000 to cover personal charges that included a $10,000 family vacation, a $10.50 movie ticket and a repair bill for a minivan.

The Florida newspaper said some of his credit card statements from the two-year period remained private. In response, Rubio said he will release those records “soon”, although it remains unclear what they might contain.

Rubio called the Times report “not accurate”, adding that each expense on the card was detailed in the state party’s official filings. “It doesn’t say who they belong to, but every expense is on there,” he said.

“The Republican party never paid a single expense of mine – personal expense,” Rubio said in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America. “If there was a personal expense, I paid it. If it was a party expense, the party paid it. Now, I recognize in hindsight I would do it different to avoid all this confusion.”

The senator’s financial history has come under fresh scrutiny amid his bid for the White House, especially as Rubio has risen in the polls. His opponents on both sides have seized on the past credit card usage in recent weeks, with Republican frontrunner Donald Trump dubbing Rubio’s finances “a disaster” on Tuesday.

“He certainly lives above his means, there’s no question about that,” Trump told reporters at a press conference in New York.

The Democratic National Committee also accused Rubio of misleading the public on the charges in last week’s Republican presidential debate.

Rubio was asked during the debate how he would handle the nation’s finances if he couldn’t handle his own, to which the senator similarly defended himself against what he said were “discredited” attacks. He then pivoted to his humble upbringing to make the case that he understood what it was like to struggle with finances, a line he reiterated on Wednesday in a separate interview with Fox News.

“It will be good for this country to have a president that knows what it feels like to have your house lose its value because of irresponsible and reckless behavior by Fannie and Freddie [federal mortgage agencies], by the Federal Reserve,” Rubio said. “It would be good for this country to have a president that knows what it’s like to owe money in student loans like I once did.”

It nonetheless remains unlikely that the renewed attention surrounding Rubio’s spending will go away quickly. The issue was highlighted in a leaked PowerPoint presentation crafted by the campaign of Jeb Bush, Rubio’s former Florida ally, and shown to donors at a closed-door retreat last week – signaling that an onslaught could be yet to come.

Both Bush and Rubio were campaigning in New Hampshire on Wednesday, a week after they clashed in the last debate. Although Bush has continued to criticize Rubio over his voting record, he has not publicly gone after his finances and declined to wade into the issue when it was raised by reporters on Tuesday.

But in his campaign’s slideshow to donors, aides referred to Rubio as “a risky bet”. In addition to the state party credit card, the presentation also brought up his close ties to Norman Braman, a Florida-based billionaire who according to a New York Times report in May has acted as a personal and professional benefactor to Rubio.

Other reports in recent months could also serve as further ammunition to Rubio’s opponents.

The senator faced foreclosure on a house he once co-owned with David Rivera, a former Florida representative and close friend of Rubio’s who has been the subject of several allegations of corruption. He also liquidated a retirement account last year, incurring large penalties in the process, to pay for unexpected home repairs.

In his interview with Fox, Rubio said he was looking forward to debating the subject with Democrats as “someone who grew up paycheck-to-paycheck”.

“How’s [Hillary Clinton] going to say that I don’t understand the plight of people that are struggling in America when I myself – through my parents and our upbringing – lived it?” Rubio said. “So I am proud of where I come from. My parents weren’t rich people, but I am proud of what they left us with – which is the chance of a better life and we’ve been able to achieve that.” © Guardian News and Media 2015