GOP front-runner Donald Trump lobbed several attacks in a blistering campaign ad against Florida Sen. Marco Rubio ahead of the Sunshine State’s March 15 presidential primary.
"Corrupt Marco Rubio has spent years defrauding the people of Florida," the commercial said.
The ad charged that while in Florida, Rubio sold a vote when he was Speaker of the House, misused a Republican Party of Florida credit card on several occasions and misspent taxpayer money. It wrapped up by saying Rubio hasn’t shown up for work as a senator in Washington.
It turns out the facts behind those allegations are as wide-ranging as the claims themselves. We decided to go through the ad line by line to fact-check it and provide additional context.
"As a legislator he flipped on a key vote after making a quick $200,000 from selling the house to the mother of the bill's lobbyist."
This claim exaggerates key facts. In 2007, Rubio was speaker of the House in Florida's Legislature. A West Miami chiropractor was pressuring (if not outright lobbying, by the state's definition) Rubio to pass an extension of a type of auto insurance called personal injury protection, or PIP. Rubio was holding out for better fraud protections in the legislation.
But Rubio also was selling his house in West Miami, which the chiropractor's mother bought at more than $200,000 over what Rubio had paid. That was considered a fair price at the time, and it seems the mother simply wanted to live near her chiropractor son.
The session ended after the sale, with no resolution to the insurance flap. But when Gov. Charlie Crist called a fall special session, Rubio asked to fix the issue. The Legislature came to an overwhelmingly approved compromise, and PIP was restored.
Trump’s claim has a basis in real events, but there are several problems with the ethical implication he’s making about Rubio’s time in the Legislature. When we put this statement on our Truth-O-Meter, we rated it Mostly False.
"He used the Republican Party’s credit card to pave his driveway and live it up in Las Vegas. When he got caught, he said he used the wrong credit card."
This claim is largely accurate. In 2005, the Republican Party of Florida gave Rubio an American Express for expenses, as it did for other party leaders. Rubio used the card until 2008, but it has been the source of attacks ever since.
Rubio did say in his 2012 memoir An American Son that he used the card to pay for pavers for his driveway, and that it was an accident. "I pulled the wrong card from my wallet to pay for pavers," he wrote.
He has also said that when he used the card for personal expenses, he paid them back with his own money. That has been difficult for us to fully verify because of the way charges have been reported. Complicating matters is that the Republican Party of Florida has said there was no written policy on using the cards.
The Las Vegas trip involved charges for a hotel room and rental car made in the billing period that ended in August 2005. Rubio was in Nevada for political business, but stayed longer because he has family in the area. He told the Tampa Bay Times he paid American Express $1,745.00 in the following billing period for those charges, while the RPOF paid $3,343.58 for the rest of the days he was in the hotel on party business.
"But he had used the same Republican Party credit card for six flights between Miami and Tallahassee. Then billed the state for the same airline tickets and pocketed the cash until, once again, he got caught."
Rubio did end up reimbursing the cost of flights. After the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times obtained some of Rubio’s American Express records, the newspapers noticed the GOP paid more than $7,000 for flights between Miami and Tallahassee in 2007 and 2008. They requested Rubio’s travel records.
On Feb. 26, 2010, then a candidate for U.S. Senate, Rubio admitted that he double-billed state taxpayers and the Republican Party of Florida for eight (not six) plane tickets when he was speaker of the Florida House.
Seven of the flights were between Tallahassee and Miami, while one was from Ft. Lauderdale to Tallahassee, and then on to Miami.
Rubio had said that his travel had been paid for by the Republican Party between 2006 and 2008, but mistakenly submitted the flights to be reimbursed by the state as official travel expenses. He said he would repay the party about $2,400 to cover the flights.
"Billing the Party was a mistake which needs to be fixed. So, out of an abundance of caution I am personally reimbursing the Party for the cost of all eight flights," Rubio said in a statement.
"On top of it all, Rubio’s been a total no-show in the U.S. Senate with the worst voting record of all."
Trump said something similar during the March 3 debate in Detroit. He said Rubio "has the No. 1 absentee record in the United States" Senate, and we rated that claim Mostly True.
Looking at the number of votes missed between March 16, 2015, and March 14, 2016, Rubio’s absentee rate of 42 percent puts him at the 100th percentile. That means that in the past year, he has had a worse voting record than every other sitting senator.
We’ll note the majority of the votes Rubio has skipped came after April 13, when he announced his candidacy.
If we look at career truancy records among the remaining presidential contenders, Rubio and Cruz are tied at 14.8 percent absentee rates. Some former senators have had worse records, including President Barack Obama, who had a career absentee rate of 24.2 percent.
Donald Trump, "Corrupt Marco," March 7, 2016
Tampa Bay Times, "Records show Marco Rubio spent thousands with GOP credit card," Feb. 24, 2010
Tampa Bay Times Buzz blog, "Rubio ‘mistakenly’ double-billed for plane fare," Feb. 26, 2010
PolitiFact Florida, "Rubio says GOP credit card paid with 'my money'," March 11, 2010
Tampa Bay Times, "Marco Rubio's finances have presented an opportunity — and a curse," April 24, 2015
Tampa Bay Times, "His eye on the White House, Marco Rubio racks up the worst missed-vote record in the U.S. Senate," Aug. 7, 2015
PolitiFact Florida, "When attacked for missed votes, Marco Rubio calls out Barack Obama and John Kerry for missing votes," Oct. 28, 2015
PolitiFact Florida, "At debate, Rubio calls tally of financial mishaps a pack of 'discredited attacks'," Oct. 30, 2015
Tampa Bay Times, "Marco Rubio spent lavishly on a GOP credit card, but some transactions are still secret," Nov. 3, 2015
Tampa Bay Times, "Rubio details personal use of GOP AmEx from 2005-06," Nov. 7, 2015
PolitiFact, "Donald Trump is right: Marco Rubio has worst Senate voting record," March 3, 2016
PolitiFact, "Fact-Check-A-Thon calls out misleading TV ads in 2016 primaries," March 8, 2016
PolitiFact Florida, "Trump attack inaccurately implies Rubio traded auto insurance vote for house sale," March 10, 2016