Charlie Crist finally decided to start fighting back against Marco Rubio, perhaps a little late in the game, since Rubio has taken a commanding lead in the polls. A leak of Florida Republican Party bookkeeping showed that Rubio had used his GOP credit card for some personal purchases, which Crist’s allies took delight in itemizing. However, the remarkable lack of plausible deniability in the sourcing leads the Miami Herald to ask whether Crist may have aimed a peashooter at Rubio only to hit himself with it instead:
Someone very close to Gov. Charlie Crist clearly was trying to damage Marco Rubio’s Senate campaign by leaking Republican Party American Express records that showed some personal expenses among Rubio’s legitimate party charges.
But the plan may backfire.
Republican voters will decide whether an expensive haircut, some groceries, a wine store purchase and other charges put on the party card are worse than leaking confidential party records in a political attack against another Republican.
“In my mind, disloyalty of leaking documents to the press of a selected political opponent is reprehensible,” said David Johnson, a Tallahassee-based Republican political consultant who once served as the party’s executive director.
Johnson added that the leaked records themselves aren’t very damaging to Rubio. The party charges don’t appear extravagant and Rubio said he paid more than $16,000 directly to American Express to cover personal charges.
Many people may wonder why Rubio charged personal items to the card in the first place. That is not an uncommon practice in the business world, where managers get company credit cards and are expected to pay the bills themselves and get reimbursed only for legitimate business expenses. That makes less sense for politicians, as Rubio is finding out this week, since expenses and reimbursements run afoul of campaign-finance laws — and internecine opponents digging for dirt. Rubio should have used his own credit or debit card for personal purchases. However, Rubio paid the bills for those purchases with his own money, which makes this something a little short of a scandal.
Instead, the scandal may fall on Crist’s shoulders. The recent departure of two Crist allies from the top of the state Republican hierarchy makes the sourcing on this story pretty obvious:
But the story left unanswered who leaked the documents and why only 25 months’ worth were released when Rubio had a party card for nearly four years. A very small number of people had access to the statements, including recently departed Chairman Jim Greer and his executive director, Delmar Johnson. Both are Crist allies. Republican activists are angry that confidential party information was leaked, particularly as the party begins an audit to review spending under Greer’s leadership in order to rebound from stories of lavish spending on travel, meals and entertaining.
Speaking of Delmar Johnson, how did he use his party card?
Crist likes to point out that he never had a party card, but he was often at dinners and events with people who do, including Greer and Delmar Johnson, so there is no way of knowing what was purchased for him.
“The governor is the governor. He has people who do that,” said David Johnson, the political strategist. “When you have other people paying for it on their card, that’s just convenient.”
The Rubio campaign pointed out that his $110,000 party charges over 25 months are less than what Delmar Johnson charged in one month.
Crist wants to talk about full disclosure; let him produce the records of his aides with party cards and start comparing. If he’s all about full transparency, then he’ll authorize the release of those records to match the transparency thrust upon Rubio. If Crist refuses, then we’ll know he’s full of something, and certainly not transparency.
Update: The Miami Herald story has been extensively rewritten since I wrote this post. Most of the excerpts above no longer appear in the article. It would be interesting to know why they were removed.