June 12, 2015

Red-light cameras Marco Rubio called 'scam' made big bucks for hometown

Sen. Marco Rubio recently called red light cameras a “scam” following a New York Times blog about his traffic violations over two decades.

Rubio received a violation for running a red-light in his home city of West Miami in November 2011 but the case was dismissed in March 2012.

PolitiFact Florida looked at Rubio’s claim about whether the cameras are a “scam.” While we did not place a rating on his claim since that’s a matter of opinion, we found that the research about the cameras’ effectiveness is mixed. Also, the cameras have resulted in multiple lawsuits -- West Miami is one of dozens of cities that are defendants in a federal class action lawsuit related to cameras.

Yet dozens of cities including West Miami have continued to use red light cameras which can lead to a nice chunk of change for local governments. West Miami, which is only three-quarters of a square mile, has collected more than $1.7 million in red light camera revenue over the past five years.

Here’s how much the city of West Miami collected in red light camera revenue in each fiscal year which ends in September, according to their revenue records.

2010: $270,148

2011: $156,620

2012: $577,136

2013: $426,123

2014: $307,892

After receiving the revenue information from the city today, we asked city officials how much they have spent on litigation related to the cameras. If we get additional details we will update this blog.

UPDATE: Lawyer Bruce Johnson was retained by the Florida League of Cities to represent about 36 cities including West Miami in the red light camera litigation. That means that the city of West Miami isn't picking up the legal costs in the case. There are multiple lawyers representing other defendants -- in total about 100 cities are involved. The federal class action case alleges that cities improperly delegated authority to an outside vendor.

June 10, 2015

Marco Rubio pushes amendments in bid to modify State Department operations


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the Republican from Florida running for president, pushed through several amendments to a State Department authorizing bill that just moved through a key committee.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday unanimously passed a fiscal 2016 authorizing bill that dictates operations for the State Department and U.S. embassies. The legislation now moves to the Senate floor, where it was expected to be offered as an amendment to a defense bill under consideration.

The focus of the legislation is reforming operations of the State Department, as well as improving security at U.S. diplomatic posts around the world. Rubio used the vehicle to address several other concerns; according to his Senate office, seven out of nine amendments he offered were either added to the bill by committee leaders or passed by voice vote of members.

Among other things, the Rubio-sponsored amendments would:

--Require the secretary of state to develop a curriculum for training U.S. foreign service officers on the scope and strategic value of international religious freedom.

--Require the secretary of state to certify each year that Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous to justify any treatment it receives that is different from China;

--Require a report on anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity at the United Nations and its agencies.

--Require an annual report on the status of U.S. humanitarian assistance to Haiti and an assessment of elections there.

--Require a report assessing U.S. support to the Venezuelan people, as well as an assessment of U.S. support of the democratic process there.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio pushes amendments in bid to modify State Department operations" »

June 09, 2015

Are red light cameras a 'scam' as Marco Rubio says?

Serious news about U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign nearly screeched to a halt amid a New York Times blog post about his four traffic violations over 18 years.

The June 5 report noted that Rubio’s wife Jeanette had 13 tickets. His violations included careless driving, speeding, running a stop sign (which was later dismissed) and running a red light, caught by a traffic camera.

On Twitter, readers lampooned the New York Times with the #RubioCrimeSpree hashtag. "Marco once picked all the marshmallows out of the Lucky Charms box," said one post, while others riffed, "BREAKING: Marco Rubio once ripped a tag from a mattress" and "Opens his eyes when he plays Marco Polo."

The next day in Iowa, Rubio told MSNBC: "Let me just say, I really don’t like red-light cameras. That’s a big scam. But that’s another topic for another day."

Why not today?

We’ve actually had cause to fact-check claims about red-light cameras. Whether or not they’re a "scam" -- defined by Merriam-Webster's online dictionary as "a dishonest way to make money by deceiving people" -- is a matter of opinion. But we do think the evidence about their effectiveness is worth a review.

Rubio received a violation for running a red-light in his home city of West Miami in November 2011. Miami-Dade court records show the state sent Rubio a letter warning him that his license would be suspended if the matter wasn’t addressed. Rubio’s attorney paid the fee, his license was not suspended, and the case dismissed in March 2012.

Turn to PolitiFact Florida to see what we found about red light cameras. 

Marco Rubio's finances get national scrutiny


Marco Rubio's financial troubles are old news to Floridians, who over the years have read about the personal expenses he charged on a Republican Party of Florida credit card, the equity loan on his West Miami home he initially failed to disclose, and the short-lived foreclosure proceedings initiated on the Tallahassee home he until recently owned with David Rivera.

Now that Rubio's a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, his finances are getting a fresh look, particularly after he disclosed last month that he cashed out one of his retirement accounts -- a move financial advisers call unwise.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that Rubio has refinanced his West Miami home mortgage and equity loan. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Rubio owns an $80,000, 24-foot speedboat boat and has leased a $50,000 2015 Audi Q7. (UPDATE: Politico has details on Rubio's boat, and it ain't no speedboat but rather the typical fishing boat that trawls Biscayne Bay.)

The Times story comes four days after the newspaper blogged about Rubio's four traffic tickets over 18 years -- a report that was met with a shrug in Miami, where traffic tickets are not that unusual. Rubio's campaign used the ticket piece to fund-raise.

Tuesday, the campaign pushed back further, issuing a statement blasting the "elitist" Times and highlighting Rubio's more than $150,000 in student-loan debt, which he talks about on the stump and paid off after the publication of his memoir, An American Son.

Without disputing the Times' report, the campaign noted Rubio has created college-savings accounts for each of his four children and donated nearly $150,000 to charity "over the last several years.

The Times might have opened itself to Rubio's attack by publishing the earlier post on traffic tickets, though one piece wasn't linked to the other. But while a red-light camera citation has little bearing on a candidate's presidential aspirations, his ability to manage money is far more relevant. And Rubio's camp may score points among some conservatives for going after the Times (a frequent GOP target), yet the strong push back also suggests his advisers know financial questions might have more staying power in a campaign narrative than traffic tickets.

Meanwhile, other Republican contenders might -- perversely -- welcome the kind of attention the Times has paid to Rubio: It's a sign he's a serious candidate worth examining closely.

June 05, 2015

Marco Rubio, Miami driver


So Marco Rubio, Republican presidential candidate, got four traffic tickets in the past 18 years.

News? The New York Times thought so, in a blog post that also dinged his wife, Jeanette, for her 13 infractions in the same period.

But what’s news in New York — where subways and taxis rule, and it’s next to madness to get behind a steering wheel — is a yawner in Florida, where four tickets in 18 years makes you, if not a model driver, at least a pretty typical one.

“This is something that humanizes politicians,” said J.C. Planas, an elections attorney and former state representative who served with Rubio in the Legislature but supports presidential rival Jeb Bush. “We’ve all gotten tickets!”

The violations by Rubio and his wife included speeding, careless driving and running a red light, caught by a traffic camera. They’ve paid more than $1,000 in fines as a result, and attended driving school on four occasions.

On social media, the Times’ blog post drew a few kudos as a public-records scoop — and a lot of scoffing for hardly counting as news.

Rubio wouldn’t comment. But his campaign seized on the story to raise money, calling the Times’ attention to the senator’s driving record “pretty ridiculous, huh?” On Twitter, @TeamMarco embraced the hashtag “#RubioCrimeSpree,” making light of the senator’s driving record with suggestions of other “crimes” he may have committed.

More here.

June 04, 2015

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio fact-checks topped PolitiFact Florida in May

The GOP presidential battle featuring U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush led to many of PolitiFact Florida’s most popular fact-checks in May.

Our readers also pored over our annotation of Gov. Rick Scott’s comments about a potential Medicaid expansion. On June 1, the Florida Legislature convened in a special session with the goal of agreeing on a new budget after the regular session in April ended early amid a fight over Medicaid.

Turn to PolitiFact Florida to see our Top 5 in May.

PolitiFact looks at Marco Rubio's claim about Patriot Act

After weeks of political hand-wringing, the Patriot Act is out and the USA Freedom Act is in. But despite substantial support from both parties, the sweeping national security reform is not without critics.

Chief among them is Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who unsuccessfully lobbied to extend bulk metadata collection authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The metadata program, which allowed National Security Agency officials to collect phone data such as call length and the phone numbers involved, started in 2006 and was kept top-secret until Edward Snowden famously exposed it and other NSAinformation-gathering initiatives in 2013.

The USA Freedom Act, meanwhile, forces the NSA to subpoena phone records from phone companies instead of collecting the data directly.

Rubio argued to keep the metadata program as is in a USA Today op-ed May 10. 

"There is not a single documented case of abuse of this program," Rubio wrote. "Internet search providers, Internet-based email accounts, credit card companies and membership discount cards used at the grocery store all collect far more personal information on Americans than the bulk metadata program."

The metadata program has not produced a single case of abuse? That’s a strong claim. Does it withstand scrutiny?

Well, sort of. It depends on how you define "abuse."

Turn to Kirby Wilson's fact-check from PolitiFact and see Rubio's full Truth-O-Meter record.

June 03, 2015

Marco Rubio, David Rivera sell Tallahassee home


Marco Rubio and David Rivera have sold the house the owned together in Tallahassee, a property that for years tied the Florida senator to the former Miami congressman.

The two friends sold the house this week for $117,000, a Rubio aide confirmed Wednesday to the Miami Herald. The sale was first reported by Politico.

Rubio and Rivera had listed the house in March for $125,000. They had bought it in March 2005 for $135,000. It briefly entered foreclosure proceedings before the former Tallahassee roommates settled the matter.

The house has been a drag on Rubio, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, who has been repeatedly tied to the embattled Rivera, who is the target of a federal criminal investigation into campaign-finance shenanigans. Rivera has appealed a separate state ethics finding against him.

Rubio has also faced scrutiny over his finances, including the underwater mortgage on the Tallahassee home.

As of Wednesday morning, the Leon County property appraiser still listed Rubio and Rivera as the joint owners.

This post and headline have been updated.

Jeb Bush doesn't think 'good friend' Marco Rubio called him an 'outdated leader'


LAKE BUENA VISTA -- Without naming names, Marco Rubio took aim Tuesday at older candidates running for president in 2016. 

"While our economy is transforming, our policies and our leaders are not," the Florida senator said in a video played at a Republican candidate forum. "Our outdated leaders continue to cling to outdated ideas."

Hours later, his one-time mentor, former Gov. Jeb Bush, addressed the same crowd.

Did Bush think Rubio was talking about him being, essentially, too old for the job?

"It's kind of hard to imagine that my good friend Marco would be critical of his good friend Jeb," Bush said.

June 02, 2015

Fact-checking Marco Rubio's claim at Rick Scott's economic summit about dying businesses

At the economic summit for Republican presidential candidates convened by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., expressed concern about entrepreneurialism in the United States.

"For the first time in 35 years, we have more businesses dying than we do starting," Rubio said at the June 2, 2015, event.

Is that correct? We took a closer look.

We located a May 2014 report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, titled, "Declining Business Dynamism in the United States: A Look at States and Metros."

In that report, coauthors Robert Litan and Ian Hathaway published data that supports Rubio’s claim. Their calculations come from a collection of U.S. Census Bureau data called Business Dynamics Statistics.

"Recent evidence points to a U.S. economy that has steadily become less dynamic over time," they wrote.

Keep reading Louis Jacobson's fact-check from PolitiFact