Days before he was sworn in as speaker of the Florida House, Marco Rubio and his top deputies hopped on a charter plane to Washington, checked into a $600-a-night hotel hosting a Republican party conference and hired a chauffeur to squire them around the city.
The costs were charged to the state party-issued credit card belonging to Rubio's chief of staff, Richard Corcoran, a Republican operative recently transferred to the state payroll. During the five months of his $175,000-a-year job in Rubio's office, Corcoran continued spending tens of thousands of dollars in party donations for a slew of expenses, including dinners out with his boss, personalized chairs for Republican leaders and $4,600 for electronics, according to American Express statements obtained by The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times.
"You have meeting after meeting to talk about the ideas and about building the agenda," said Corcoran, who denied misspending party funds. "Every penny was worth it."
Corcoran's hefty credit card bills — $60,000 in one two-month period alone — reflect the free-wheeling party spending on travel and dining that disgraced Rubio's successor, indicted former Rep. Ray Sansom of Destin, and cost former state party chairman Jim Greer his job. State law bans public employees from working on political campaigns while on duty.
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"You have a total institutional failure of candor, accountability, transparency and internal controls that is wholly unacceptable in the private sector and even among nonprofits," said Anthony "Tony" Alfieri, director of the University of Miami's Center for Ethics and Public Service.
Though the Internal Revenue Service requires party money to be spent on political activities, many of Corcoran's charges were personal: a $20 haircut, more than $400 in airline fees for a canceled family trip to Spain, $1,600 at a frame shop, $1,200 for handcrafted chairs for top Republican officials and $6,773 at a Georgia resort for a Rubio family reunion.
Party reports indicate that Corcoran did not pay those expenses back. Rubio's relatives sent checks to American Express that covered all but $714 of the hotel bill.
"I can't explain it," said Corcoran, currently a candidate for a House seat representing Pasco and Pinellas counties, of the charges for the Rubio family reunion. "You know who would know is Marco. . . . My hunch is that somehow a mistake was made."
Rubio, now the front running Republican candidate for Florida's open U.S. Senate seat, said Corcoran "potentially" picked up some of his expenses while serving as chief of staff "but only political expenses for the most part."
"There might have been some that he paid, but I don't know which ones," Rubio said. "You're asking me about a (credit card) statement I've never seen."
Read more of this story at MiamiHerald.com