Opinion

Commentary: Marco Rubio's bad dream

It must be like a bad dream for Marco Rubio.

He goes to bed as the golden boy of the New Right, and wakes up as just another phony with a $134 haircut.

And all because he didn't keep track of whose American Express card he was waving around while he was Florida's speaker of the House.

He is still leading Gov. Charlie Crist in the race for the Republican Senate nomination, but the gap is certain to shrink unless Rubio tries something bold.

Like reaching out to Democrats and independents.

Here's an offer that might have some traction: Anybody who switches to the GOP in time for the primary receives one of those nifty Republican Party credit cards.

In this battered economy, even diehard liberals would be tempted to jump ship. Judging from Rubio's AmEx bills, Republicans let you spend their donors' money on just about anything you please.

When his family's minivan got banged up, the former speaker charged the party nearly $4,000 for repairs and a five-week car rental.

That's so much nicer than having to pay for it yourself, the way ordinary folks do.

Here's another cool way to score with a GOP credit card: Go to the Apple store online and explore. That's where Rubio racked up $765 in "computer supplies."

His spokesperson -- and you'll definitely need your own spokesperson if you get this credit card -- says that the $765 expenditure was for a hard drive "to store political files."

The GOP's bean counters actually bought this lame story, as if political data require gobs of extra gigabytes. (Just for fun, try to find an Apple hard drive that costs $765. You can buy four for that price.)

Here's another good one. On a day in 2007 when Rubio's travel records said he was in Tallahassee, he charged $412 at a shop called All Fusion Electronics in Miami. His campaign claimed the bill was for "computer repairs," although the GOP lists the expense as "supplies."

If you visit All Fusion, you won't see many computers. However, the company does sell drum kits, guitars and karaoke machines.

Not to worry. Whatever it was that Rubio purchased, Republican Party bosses cheerily signed off on the tab.

Critics have pointed out that the IRS requires political parties to spend their money exclusively on influencing elections, but this is no cause for concern.

Anyone who gets a GOP-issued credit card should make sure they have a political excuse ready for each expense. It doesn't have to be a great excuse, either. Some of Rubio's more modest bills came from Winn Dixie, Farm Stores, even a store called Happy Wine.

If the IRS expresses curiosity about the receipts, you can always tell them you were entertaining important campaign donors. That's what the big boys do.

During his two-year stint as House speaker, Rubio charged $109,618 to his GOP credit card, and repaid about $16,000 for personal expenses (including the infamous haircut, though not the minivan repair or the Apple splurge).

But for those fortunate enough to carry Republican plastic, even reimbursement is painless. During one stretch, Rubio went six months before covering his own expenses. Whether he paid any interest or late fees is one of many unanswered questions facing his busy spokesperson.

Only last week, Rubio agreed to reimburse the GOP for about $3,000 in airline tickets for which he had billed both the party and Florida taxpayers three years ago.

This is better than revolving credit. This is eternal credit.

Rubio isn't the only self-proclaimed conservative to take advantage of the liberal terms of a GOP AmEx. His indicted buddy, former House budget chief Ray Sansom, piled up $173,000 on a party card, charging everything from baby-sitters to flowers.

In fact, so many state GOP big-shots were living large off campaign donations that the party is now in manic damage-control mode. The dread is that other embarrassing expense records will leak out, as Rubio's did.

This scandal could be cleverly defused by offering one of those extra-friendly credit cards to any eligible voter who registers Republican between now and the upcoming elections.

Many Floridians might be persuaded to set aside their ideological differences in exchange for the prestige and oh-so-generous benefits that Rubio and the others have enjoyed.

Giving away credit cards would be the purest way to influence the election, and therefore completely in line with the IRS rules on party expenditures.

American Express would probably be eager to cooperate, perhaps even issuing for Florida's Republican Party its own specially colored card. Instead of green, platinum or black, this one would be red.

And welcome at fine karaoke stores everywhere.

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