Hundreds of thousands of dollars “were racked up by former House Speaker Marco Rubio [and] his now-indicted successor, Ray Sansom”
The Miami Herald
By Marc Caputo
For Florida House leaders, membership had its privileges: a Republican Party American Express card to charge jets to Manhattan and Disney World, chic hotels and five-star restaurants.
Flashing the party card opened limousine doors, bought gifts at Harrods in London, Toys R Us or Best Buy. It provided a seemingly bottomless coffee cup at Starbucks.
In all, about $458,000 in AmEx charges like these were racked up by former House Speaker Marco Rubio, his now-indicted successor, Ray Sansom, and the man set to lead the chamber in November, Dean Cannon, according to a Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times computer analysis of Republican Party of Florida credit card statements for a nearly two years ending in 2009.
The part-time lawmakers paid for little of it. Republican Party of Florida donors — mostly corporate interest seeking favorable legislation from lawmakers — picked up most of it. Though some of the records have been reported, the credit-card statements of the three party leaders viewed together offer a window into the world of public officials conducting private, partisan business.
“All the spending, all the charges and the nice hotels and dinners just don’t cast the image of good fiscal management, either in Florida or in Washington,” said Tom Slade, Republican Party of Florida chairman from 1993 to 1999.
Slade said some Republicans lost their way … Sansom awaits criminal trial on charges that he rigged the state budget to help a friend and major party donor.
When Sansom led House campaign efforts, a young party staffer named Melanie Phister charged nearly $1.3 million in expenses — some for Sansom and his family — and in “multiple instances,” she said, her card was used without her knowledge.
“When someone gives a credit card to someone else and that someone else doesn’t pay that, the temptation is overwhelming,” Slade said. “After a while, it becomes an entitlement. And the `while’ is a short period of a time.”
Rubio charged … about $100,000 …
Sansom couldn’t be reached, nor did his attorney return calls about his nearly $173,000 in expenses. Sansom charged an additional $20,000 in Delta Airlines flights …
The current and former lawmakers won’t say what every credit-card expense was for …
… Rubio’s former chief of staff, Richard Corcoran, also had a card and rang up $70,000 in four months.
In addition to the cards, Rubio, Sansom and Cannon also raised and spent tens of thousands more on themselves and others through special political committees.
Cannon’s biggest single credit-card expense: $19,151 for Malone Aircharter, a jet service that, Cannon said, ferried him and other lawmakers to a New York fundraiser for the Florida party in December 2006. Rubio and Sansom were also at the fundraiser. All three stayed at the Bryant Park Hotel and together spent about $775.
Longtime Republican fundraisers like Al Hoffman say the purpose of the fundraiser might be legitimate, but some of the expenses were too “lavish” and hard to justify.
“When they do the fancy wining and dining, they do it for themselves. Same with jet charters,” Hoffman said. “For those guys to charter a jet — when there’s commercial air service available — is really the height of misuse.”
Hoffman said lawmakers have to spend money to raise money. But, “when you see a five-star hotel or a $1,000 dinner — that’s ridiculous . . . little piggies at the trough.”
All three together rang up $72,688 in hotel charges, including the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Watercolor Inn in Santa Rosa and Walt Disney World Caribbean Resorts. The party has annual Disney World fundraisers.
Sansom and his family also flew to London on his party card …
Records for Sansom’s card show he spent $11,475 at Best Buy, almost $840 at Starbucks and $9,421 on flowers. In London, he also charged $235 at Harrods and $75 at Westminster Abbey.
Rubio’s charges are smaller than Sansom’s, from $181 at the Natural History Museum in New York to $1,348 spent on flowers to $1,000 spent at Braman Honda to repair van damage incurred at what he said was a party function.
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