The phone lines around Romney Headquarters are buzzing with worried campaign operatives wondering if Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the obvious front runner for vice president, should be dropped from consideration because of ethical issues that may surface should he run.
So I looked into them and called the reporter who’s been covering them. Here’s the story:
The two big worries about Rubio appear to be non-starters. He has been very close to two men who are in a lot of trouble, but there is no evidence that any of it has rubbed off on him.
Former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom, who Rubio — his predecessor as Speaker — hand-picked to be the House’s budget chairman, has been convicted in a corruption probe. But, other than bad judgment in trusting him, it doesn’t seem to involve Rubio.
Marco’s other close friend — Florida Republican Congressman David Rivera — is reportedly under serious federal investigation. Federal investigators say he was “essentially living off” the state Republican Party credit card over the past decade.
Rubio, himself, has been accused of racking up $100,000 in Amex bills on the state card. He paid $16,000 back, apologized for the error, and says the rest is legit. The reporter who broke the story – Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald – says there is no ongoing federal investigation of Rubio over this issue. A complaint with the Florida State Ethics Commission was thrown out last week.
The other issues that surround Rubio are also nickel and dime stuff:
• He took $210,000 in campaign contributions that the Federal Elections Commission said were not legal and he paid a $8,000 fine for doing so. Lots and lots of Senators – most notably former Senator Hillary Clinton – have done a lot worse.
• He double-billed for nine plane trips. Said it was an oversight and paid it back.
• He didn’t report a $135,000 home equity loan. Again, he apologized and reported it.
Are these charges enough to keep a charismatic, principled conservative off the ticket? I don’t think so.
But the standards for a VP nominee are worse than those for Caesar’s wife. Any hint of scandal is enough to make the party operatives run for cover. The rule for any VP choice is the same as the Hippocratic Oath for doctors: “first, do no harm.”
It may be that these brush-fires lead the party honchos to run to the nearest boring white man for the nomination. But, where there’s smoke, there isn’t always fire.