- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 22, 2010

The IRS reportedly is investigating conservative Senate candidate Marco Rubio’s use of a Republican Party credit card while he was Florida’s House speaker, adding new intrigue to the closely watched GOP primary that for weeks has revolved around the fate of Republican Gov. Charlie Crist’s bid for the Senate seat.

Reports by the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald say that the Internal Revenue Service is looking into whether Mr. Rubio, along with former Florida Republican Chairman Jim Greer and former state GOP Executive Director Delmar Johnson, personally benefited by charging personal expenses on their state-party-issued American Express cards.

The IRS opened the case involving Mr. Rubio, the leading Republican candidate for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat, to determine whether there is enough evidence to support a full-fledged criminal probe, according to a source familiar with the IRS examination, the newspapers reported.

Mr. Rubio billed his party for at least $100,000 during the two years he served as House speaker in 2007 and 2008, according to credit card statements obtained by the newspapers. The charges included repairs to the family minivan, grocery bills, airplane tickets for his wife, and purchases from retailers ranging from a wine store near his home to Apple’s on-line store.

He also reportedly charged the party for dozens of meals during an annual lawmaking session in Tallahassee, even though he received taxpayer subsidies for his meals.

Mr. Rubio has denied any wrongdoing, telling The Washington Times through a spokesman that the credit card purchases were for “legitimate political purposes.”

“When I made personal charges, I paid for them directly to American Express,” Mr. Rubio said. “I have not been contacted and don’t know anything about any potential inquiries, but I welcome the chance to set the record straight once and for all.”

Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos added that the newspapers’ report was based on an anonymous source and that “no one has been able to confirm this on the record.”

House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, who on Tuesday endorsed Mr. Rubio for Senate, said Wednesday on the MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program said that the Senate candidate doesn’t fear an IRS probe.

“I think Marco and his campaign have indicated they welcome the look and the openness that this will produce and perhaps get this issue off the table,” Mr. Cantor said.

Mr. Rubio, 38, who stepped down from the Florida Legislature due to term limits at the end of 2008, has a 20-percentage point or more lead over Mr. Crist in many polls. A Rasmussen Reports survey conducted earlier this month showed the South Florida lawyer would defeat Mr. Crist by 29 points.

A Crist spokeswoman on Wednesday declined to comment on the reported IRS inquiry of Mr. Rubio.

Mr. Crist, who only two years ago was a skyrocketing GOP star and was rumored as a possible running mate for 2008 Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, has said he is considering withdrawing from the primary to run for the Senate as an independent. The governor has until April 30 to decide.

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