Florida senator Marco Rubio has just seen a nagging ethics complaint filed against him dismissed by the Florida Commissio on Ethicd, clearing him of the wrongdoing alleged in the complaint. The move could help remove what some sources believe is an obstacle to Rubio joining Mitt Romney’s ticket as the vice-presidential nominee.
The complaint was filed by a Democratic donor back in April, 2010 when Rubio was engaged in a bitter fight for the U.S. Senate seat with Governor Charlie Crist, who left the Republican primary against Rubio to run unsuccessfully as an independent in the fall election. The complaint, which was based solely on newspaper stories, alleged that Rubio had made use of a Republican-party credit card while he was speaker of the Florida House to pay for his own personal expenses.
Rubio has admitted that his handling of the credit card was a “mistake” because some expenses such as groceries, travel, and repairs to his family’s minivan wound up on the party card. But Rubio insists he never billed personal expenses to the GOP because he wound up paying American Express directly for $16,000 in mischarges. “The Republican party of Florida never paid my personal expenses. Never,” he told Fox News last April. “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it very differently . . . Some of these expenses were because a travel agent had the . . . credit-card number, and they billed it to that card instead of the other card. Sometimes, it was just a mistake, you know, literally just reached for the wrong card.”
The controversy certainly damaged Rubio’s image in the eyes of some Romney backers, who have told me they worried that former Republican-party chairman Jim Greer, who issued party credit cards to Rubio and other GOP and is now facing felony corruption charges, would come forward to embarrass Rubio if he was selected by Romney.
As one Republican U.S. senator told Politico: “If he’s chosen as VP, his image will be set in about the first 24 hours. Think of Sarah Palin or Dan Quayle.”
Indeed, Team Romney has reason to be concerned about sloppy media coverage of the credit-card issue. Earlier this year, Reuters inaccurately claimed that Rubio had reimbursed the state GOP rather than a credit-card company for his expenses. It also reported that Rubio “was caught up” in an Internal Revenue Service probe of the party’s credit cards. But Rubio aides say they have never been contacted by the IRS, even though the issue is over two years old.
No doubt the credit-card issue is still viewed as a negative by the Romney vetting committee, but the dismissal of the complaint against Rubio by the Florida Commission on Ethics is a welcome piece of news for Team Rubio, who can now claim that there is much less of a chance the story can be exploited by the Democrats should Rubio be the vice-presidential nominee.