Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Reporting on Marco Rubio's finances has been slammed by left and right
Raul A. Reyes: It's legitimate to question a candidate's ability to manage his money
Last week, The New York Times took a look at Sen. Marco Rubio’s finances, and the view wasn’t pretty.
Noting “persistent doubts about his financial management,” the Times reported that Rubio had a history of imprudent spending, low savings and comingling political and personal funds.
The article generated pushback from the right and the left.
Writing for the National Review Online, Rich Lowry called the article “laughably tendentious and unfair” and “as hostile a narrative as possible.” On “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart mocked the Times story, terming it “inconsequential gossip.”
But Rubio’s finances are consequential because he is one of the front-runners for the GOP nomination. The way he has handled his money speaks to his maturity and judgment. Beyond that, Rubio preaches a message of fiscal austerity that stands in contrast to his own behavior – even as he has shown little concern for the safety net of average Americans.
From the Times article, we glean that Rubio has not always been sensible about money. Among other things: Despite being heavily in debt, upon receiving a large book advance, he bought an $80,000 speedboat; he used a GOP credit card for personal expenses, travel and home renovations; and he barely avoided foreclosure on a second home after failing to make mortgage payments on it for five months. Rubio says that he eventually covered the nonparty charges on the GOP credit card with his own money.
In a statement to the Times, Rubio said, “Like most Americans, I know what it’s like for money to be a limited resource and to have to manage it accordingly.”
Yet most Americans do not receive $800,000 book advances or Republican Party credit cards, let alone have second homes. Rubio had access to such resources and was still not able to live within his means. If he is indifferent or inattentive to managing his own affairs, it is legitimate to wonder whether he is ready to manage the affairs of the presidency, including the $3.9 trillion federal budget.
On his website, Rubio criticizes “Washington’s addiction to irresponsible spending” and states that, “we need to reduce spending.”
If only he had followed his own advice, he wouldn’t be dealing with embarrassing stories in the national media about how he leased a $50,000 2015 Audi Q7 and cashed out a $68,000 retirement fund. It does seem a bit hypocritical that Rubio promotes financial responsibility while not practicing it. As recently as April, the Federal Election Commission reminded Rubio, again, to clean up his finances from his Senate campaign committee.
“The latest attack, by The New York Times and others” Rubio said on Friday in Utah, “is that I’m not rich enough to be president.”
That’s a mischaracterization of the Times’ reporting. In fact, the story highlights how Rubio has benefited from his association with a wealthy donor named Norman Braman. Braman hired Rubio as a lawyer, subsidized his college professor job and employs Jeanette Rubio, his wife, at his philanthropic foundation.
Consider that few ordinary Americans are in a position to have their financial troubles fixed by a billionaire. Or that this relationship raises questions about the undue influence Braman might exert upon Rubio in the future.
Given Rubio’s financial ups and downs, it is ironic that he does not seem to empathize with the struggles of other Americans.
“I don’t believe the minimum wage law works,” he said in 2013. Je is against raising the minimum wage. He was against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2012, calling it “nothing but an effort to help trial lawyers.”
More recently, in 2014 he voted against extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed in Florida without offsetting budget cuts, although his state had much to lose from the expiration of such benefits. So much for compassion born from experience. Meanwhile, Rubio’s signature tax proposal gives huge breaks to the superrich – people like Norman Braman.
True, not all of the reporting on Rubio has been fair. Several days before the story on his finances, the Times ran a piece about his not-so-remarkable driving record (four citations in 18 years). That news was greeted with a collective shrug in Florida and led to the sardonic hashtag “Rubio Crime Spree” trending on Twitter.
Still, the vetting of candidates by the media is a vital, unavoidable part of our political process. Just ask Hillary Clinton, who continues to face questions about donors to the Clinton Foundation, or Jeb Bush, who lately has been defending ideas he wrote about in a 1995 book.
Rubio may indeed face more probing into his past, because he is arguably the least known of the top contenders for the presidency. Rubio’s campaign is also heavily centered around his biography – the son of immigrants who has achieved his American dream – so it is inevitable that his life will be thoroughly scrutinized.
As a candidate for president, Rubio must get used to being held to the highest standard of accountability. His finances merit our attention if he is to merit our vote.