Marco Rubio’s Reckless Driving and Irresponsible Home Finances At Odds With Conservative Image

What do you a call a U.S. senator running for president who, along with his wife, has a total of 17 traffic tickets for reckless driving; who earned $2.8 million between 1998 and 2008 yet only ended up with a net worth of $53,000; and who recently cashed out a $68,000 retirement account but had to pay $24,000 in taxes and penalties?

An examplary conservative, apparently. The American Conservative Union gives this contender a lifetime score of 100 percent. The conservative National Journal grades him 92 percent on economic policy. Americans for Prosperity rates him at 100 percent.

This personally reckless right-wing icon is Florida Senator Marco Rubio, whose private finances have come under the first tough scrutiny in his meteoric career. Rubio, 44, is a law school-educated, former state representative turned Speaker of the Florida House, U.S. senator, and now is one of the frontrunners in the 2016 Republican field.

Presidential campaigns have always featured young men in a hurry; that’s how one book described Bill Clinton. But Rubio isn’t just another face in the GOP field. As his political mentor, ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, fails to generate much excitement outside Republican backrooms, and Wisconson Gov. Scott Walker is seen as too unpolished outside of far-right circles, Rubio is the candidate increasingly mentioned as the GOP’s next savior.

The New York Times just published two stories about Rubio, the first about his and his wife’s ridiculous driving records. When a couple has a total of 17 moving violations—running red lights, speeding, careless driving, sideswipes—that is not an invasion of a public figure’s privacy (as his campaign protested) but a looking glass into his character. The Times’ second story about their finances revealed a similar over-reaching mentality—partly impulsive, partly cavalier—with handling money.

This might not matter were it not for the fact that Rubio’s political persona is in no small part based on being a fiscal conservative, as the Times noted. “It could undermine Mr. Rubio’s well-crafted political persona: The senator has long portrayed himself as a champion of financial austerity, railing against excessive government spending and runaway debt.”

The paper’s list of Rubio’s "do as I say, not as I do" examples of fiscal irresponsibility is long enough that Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign “flagged the issue when vetting Mr. Rubio as a possible running mate,” the Times said.

There are longstanding patterns of being impulsive and sloppy. On the impulsive side, it matters less that Rubio spent $80,000 from a 2012 $800,000 book advance on a luxury speedboat or that he leases a sleek Audi sports car, than his pattern of overspending on multiple homes and taking out home-improvement loans.

“Suddenly the owner of three homes, the Rubios saw their liabilities soar to $1 million from $330,000 in just one year,” the Times reported, then quoting a financial advisor who reviewed the spending. “This was someone that was living financially dangerously,” said the Times’ expert. During this period, when the Rubios earned $2.38 million between 1998 to 2008, they saved about 2 percent—“practically nothing,” another expert said.

Rubio was also reckless with other people’s money. As a Florida legislator, he put home expenses and a family vacation on a Republican Party credit card, which he repaid. While in the Legislature, he created two political action committees. One “was run by his wife, and used to reimburse the couple thousands of dollars for meals, gas and long-distance calls. The other employed three of the Rubio family’s relatives,” the Times reported.   

That blurring of personal and professional lines is an enduring pattern. As a candidate for U.S. Senate, the Federal Election Commission found Rubio had taken $210,000 in improper donations—over the legal maximum contribution—and fined him $9,000.

Rubio’s friends and colleagues defend his financial record as “the scars of a self-made man,” as the Times put it. His parents were poor immigrants, not offering an example of financial stewardship. In his 2012 memoir—which netted $800,000—he said he lacked “bookkeeping skills” and used an “imperfect accounting system.”

The Rubio campaign protested the Times’ report. “The attack from the Times is just the latest in their continued hits against Marco and his family,” Alex Conant, a spokesman, told the Washington Post. “What the Times misses is that getting rich is not what has driven Senator Rubio’s financial decisions.”  

That’s true—Rubio didn’t embark on a legal and political career to get rich. But he did find ways to make a lot of money fast, including cultivating at least one billionaire benefactor, Norman Braman, “who subsidized Mr. Rubio's job as a college instructor, hired him as a lawyer, and continues to employ his wife,” the Times noted.

When it comes to spending money—including other people’s money—this rising GOP star who claims to be a fiscal conservative and promoter of austerity is as reckless with his checkbook as he has been with his driving. There is no such thing as a perfect person or politician, but these two reports from the Times reveal aspects of Rubio’s temperament and judgment that are neither what's being advertised nor exactly desirable in the next commander in chief. 

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