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Politics

Former supporter says Rubio used GOP credit card for home remodeling

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 07:08 PM
TAMPA -

A former supporter of Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio says Rubio acknowledged having once put home remodeling expenses on his Republican Party credit card.

According to that supporter, Tampa political consultant Chris Ingram, Rubio initially told Ingram he had paid for the costs - about $4,000 to $5,000 for new kitchen flooring - but later denied both putting the charges on the card and repaying them.

Ingram said he discussed the credit card issue with Rubio in August or September of 2009.

"I asked him in passing, is there anything that would cause you a problem," Ingram said. "He said somehow or another a charge for new flooring ended up on the RPOF (Republican Party of Florida) credit card."

Ingram said he repeatedly urged Rubio to reveal that and all other records of his credit card use to "release your own bad news and get out in front of the story."

In a statement from a campaign aide, Rubio didn't respond directly to Ingram's account, but didn't deny Ingram's contention about the remodeling expenses. The statement attributed Ingram's account to political motives from someone who's now a Rubio opponent.

Rubio also repeated his refusal to release all of the billing records for his party credit card, calling it "an internal party matter."

But in e-mails about the subject to Ingram, which Ingram provided to the Tribune, Rubio says he has all the credit card records himself. Rubio indicates in the e-mails that he has four years of records, rather than the two years' worth that have been released by the party.

"It's no surprise this individual would go around attacking Marco considering he desperately wanted to be on the inside of this campaign and was rejected," said the e-mail statement from Rubio campaign spokesman Alex Burgos. "Later on, he tried to mend fences, but again his services were not needed.

"Again, the use of RPOF credit cards for political expenses is an internal party matter."

Ingram said he formerly offered volunteer help to the Rubio campaign, but never discussed working for the campaign.

Rubio has said in the past that he paid the credit card company directly for all personal expenses that he put on his party credit card - about $16,000 worth -- and reimbursed the party for the cost of state government-related airplane flights he inadvertently missed.

"There was never any Republican Party money ever spent on any of those personal charges," he said in a Tampa Tribune editorial board interview last week.

He said a travel agent charged the flights to the credit card. In another instance, he said a hotel that had the card number for a party meeting billed the card for charges for a Rubio family reunion.

Use of party credit cards for personal expenses by top Republicans including former party Chairman Jim Greer has been a controversial aspect of the party's 2009 financial scandal.

The records released by the party cover the period from December 2006 through January 2009, while Rubio was House speaker and former party Chairman Jim Greer was in office. Records for that period for Rubio's card don't include any home remodeling costs.

But Rubio had the card before that, while he was the designated incoming speaker, a position that requires statewide travel to campaign for other candidates. Rubio's no-party opponent Senate opponent, Gov. Charlie Crist, has said Rubio should release the records from his time as speaker-designate.

Rubio responded in the interview, "I've never opposed it other than to tell you it was a party decision."

Prior to Greer's tenure, he said, "There was never any question raised during that period of time about expenditures."

Ingram, who says he's in the conservative wing of the Republican Party and has worked for candidates including Katherine Harris in 2006, was among the first Republicans to criticize Crist publicly.

Ingram publishes an online newsletter, "Irreverent View," which he admits is "snarky," known for attacks on fellow Republicans over alleged corruption or violation of conservative principles.

Ingram initially backed Rubio, calling Crist "a RINO's RINO," meaning "Republican in name only." In March, he withdrew his support in the newsletter, citing the credit card issue.

He has since become a sharp critic of Rubio, headlining a recent newsletter, ""Reckless Rubio never met a perk he didn't like," and saying "What you see is not what you are going to get" with regard to Rubio's professed fiscal conservatism.

Ingram
said he may vote for Libertarian candidate Alex Snitker.

He told the Tribune he urged Rubio repeatedly in 2009 and early
this year to disclose all information related to the party credit card.

In one e-mail he provided, Ingram
mentioned the remodeling costs. Rubio's responses don't mention those costs, but say he paid any personal charges himself.

In an e-mail dated Dec. 24, Rubio responds to Ingram, "I have the statements now. It is all mostly a bunch of commercial airlines, rental cars, hotels and travel restaurants. Any personal charges were paid by me directly."

In an e-mail the day before, Rubio said, "This has been addressed. There is no issues with my card. (I spent less in 4 years than Sansom did in 2.)" - a reference to former House Speaker Ray Sansom, who also had a party credit card and has been indicted on charges he misused state funds to help a political supporter.


Reporter William March can be reached at (813) 259-7761.

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