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In his first TV ad in the U.S. Senate primary, Gov. Charlie Crist wastes no time trying to shatter former House Speaker Marco Rubio's image as an ideologically pure, conservative crusader.
Using a line graph with red ink, Crist claims that Rubio's income soared when he became a member of the state House in 2001.
"His income skyrocketed while his power increased," the narrator says in the 30-second spot titled "We Thought He Was Different." The line graph starts in 2002 and ends in 2005, and indicates that Rubio's income more than tripled, starting at about $100,000 and rising to more than $300,000.
We know state legislators are paid modestly, so we were curious if Crist's made-for-TV graphic is charting reality.
To find out, we turned to the Florida Commission on Ethics, which requires elected officials to file a financial disclosure form each year. The forms list a person's net worth, assets and liabilities, and income.
Connie Evans, an executive secretary with the commission, provided PolitiFact Florida with Rubio's financial disclosure forms from 1998, when he was a member of the West Miami City Commission, until he left the Florida House as speaker in 2008.
The financial disclosure forms include legible income information for every year except 2000. (We could not discern Rubio's handwriting for that year).
A lawyer by trade, Rubio reported his income for each year:
- 1998: $73,380
- 1999: $99,000
- 2001: $89,878
- 2002: $124,721
- 2003: $122,718
- 2004: $298,825
- 2005: $329,916
- 2006: $346,896
- 2007: $346,000
- 2008: $414,000
For some context: Rubio was part of the House Republican leadership beginning in 2001 as a whip, rose to be majority leader, and was speaker from 2006 to 2008.
Rubio's income in the first few years included his salary of between $72,000 and $120,000 plus his West Miami City Commission pay ($1,380) and later his legislative salary (around $30,000 a year).
But in 2004, Rubio's income increased dramatically, records show. That year he collected almost $270,000 by working for three separate law firms in South Florida -- Broad & Cassel, Becker & Poliakoff and the Haggard Law Firm.
Starting in 2005, Rubio earned $300,000 a year working for Broad & Cassel, a well-connected statewide firm that had done millions of dollars of legal work for the Florida House.
Between 2002 and 2005, Broad & Cassel had billed state taxpayers $4.5 million for legal work authorized by former Speaker Johnnie Byrd. Byrd and a managing partner of the firm, Steve Burton, were friends.
But the expenses appeared so great that the then-incoming speaker, Alan Bense, ordered an audit of Broad & Cassel's work. The results of the audit were never publicized.
In 2008, Rubio added $69,000 from Florida International University where he was hired as a visiting professor.
In the television ad, Crist focuses on the years 2002 to 2005, which is a bit misleading because it brackets Rubio's big salary spike in 2004. If you included more years, the income increase is still dramatic, just not as much.
Let's compare Crist's graphic (it's the one near the top of this item under the ruling) with two graphics we created ourselves. First, we charted the same thing Crist did, years 2002-2005. Here's what it actually looks like:
Then we decided to chart all of the years on file with the state. That chart looks like this:
Not huge differences, mind you, but differences. In his TV ad "We Thought He Was Different," Crist said Rubio's income skyrocketed and showed a red-line graphic that illustrates the dramatic increase. While his ad chose years that had a particularly steep increase, a broader range of years show much the same thing. In his eight years in the House, Rubio's income more than quadrupled. We rate Crist's claim True.
Charlie Crist campaign, "We Thought He Was Different," You Tube, March 24, 2010
Florida Commission on Ethics, E-mail interview with Connie Evans, March 25, 2010
Florida Commission on Ethics, Marco Rubio financial disclosure forms from 1998-2008, accessed March 25, 2010
St. Petersburg Times, "Byrd's friendly computer deal turns ugly," Aug. 28, 2003, accessed via Times archives
St. Petersburg Times, "House to scrutinize law firm's hefty billings," Feb. 26, 2005, accessed via Times archives
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