By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
A national watchdog group is claiming U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio may have broken U.S. congressional ethics rules by allegedly using funds from a political action committee to pay a writer who helped pen the Miami Republican presidential candidate’s 2012 memoir, An American Son.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, wants the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics to investigate whether Rubio converted campaign funds to personal use, which is a violation of Senate rules, according to a Dec. 17 letter the group’s executive director Noah Bookbinder sent committee chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and vice-chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
Between May 14 and October 3, 2012, the Rubio-affiliated Reclaim America paid a total of $20,000 to book author Mark Salter for “strategic consulting,” according to a 2012 quarterly campaign finance report filed by the PAC. However, Bookbinder’s letter claims that the payments to Salter came around the same time he was helping Rubio organize and revise the memoir, for which the senator received an $800,000 advance.
“Campaign contributions should be used for their intended purpose—campaigning,” Bookbinder said in a statement. “It is up to the ethics committee to make sure that actually happened here.”
Alex Conant, spokesman for Rubio’s presidential campaign, and Reclaim America treasurer Lisa Lisker did not respond to emails requesting comment. In an interview with the National Journal, Salter said his Reclaim America payments were for “work unrelated to the book.”
According to CREW’s letter, it is unclear what the $20,000 actually paid for. Bookbinder cites a 2013 Tampa Bay Times article that states: “Rubio used his PAC to pay $20,000 to Mark Salter, a strategist who helped run John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, for help writing a memoir.” Bookbinder also noted that Rubio personally profited from the memoir when he received his six-figure advance.
This marks the second time in three months that CREW has accused Rubio and one of his political organizations of breaking federal campaign finance laws and regulations. In October, Bookbinder filed a complaint with Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen asking for an investigation into the non-profit group Conservative Solutions Project Inc.
The complaint states that Conservative Solutions Project exists only to benefit Rubio’s presidential campaign, spending more than $8 million on television ads supporting the senator’s bid for the Republican nomination. Under federal law, 501(c)(4) organizations like Conservative Solutions Project must be primarily engaged in promoting social welfare and are excluded from participation in political campaigns.
Bookbinder noted that Conservative Solutions Project is closely affiliated with a PAC that uses the same name and was set up to support Rubio’s presidential run. The two organizations share board members, fundraising consultants and spokesmen, Bookbinder said.
“Groups registered as social welfare organizations need to be just that, social welfare organizations,” Bookbinder said. “This is just a blatant attempt to get around the law and keep secret donors supporting Sen. Rubio’s campaign.”
Rubio’s campaign finance activities have faced scrutiny from watchdogs and federal regulators since he first ran for federal office in 2010, when his campaign accepted $210,173 in excessive contributions that resulted in an $8,000 civil penalty by Federal Elections Commission in 2012.
Two years later, the FEC warned the Rubio campaign it was accepting individual contributions that exceeded the $2,700 maximum after each of its four quarterly filings in 2014. This past September, his presidential campaign refunded more than $120,000 in excessive contributions that had been flagged by the FEC.