« Senate cuts pay, but turns free health perk into a super-cheap perk. | Main | LeMieux hosting Miami job fair »

The mysterious billing of the Rubio family reunion

Melhana1 The first Cuban-American speaker of the Florida House celebrated his 2006 swearing-in amid the white columns and and wide verandas of Melhana Plantation, a historic resort that conjures the Deep South in the antebellum years.

The cost for Marco Rubio's four-day family reunion just north of the Florida-Georgia line: more than $10,000, billed to the Republican Party of Florida. When The Miami Herald and The St. Petersburg Times asked about the charges last month, Rubio blamed his travel agent for mistakenly using his party credit card to reserve the 20 hotel rooms, and said he collected checks from relatives to cover the charges.

"I paid for the entire personal charge,'' Rubio said in a statement. "The Republican Party of Florida never paid for any of it.''

However, another $6,773 in hotel bills from the same dates were charged to the GOP-issued credit card of Richard Corcoran, Rubio's chief-of-staff at the time. (Today's story about his spending is here.) Corcoran's credit-card statements, obtained by The Herald/Times, strangely show payments to his American Express bill from Rubio's relatives. The RPOF picked up the remaining $714 of the Melhana bill, according to a report it filed with the Florida Division of Elections.

Corcoran said he could not explain why his statement included eight room charges of $504 -- listed exactly the same as the 20 room charges on Rubio's bill for the same amount and same four days in November -- or why Rubio's relatives helped to pay off his bill.

Todd Harris, an advisor to Rubio's U.S. Senate campaign, said the charges on Corcoran's card were not for hotel rooms but for a "leadership dinner'' for Rubio, his top deputies and their spouses. The dinner was canceled, Harris said, and the room and catering was used by Rubio's family.

"It was used by Marco's friends and family, and then for whatever reason, when Melhana did the billing, they ended up putting bills for all catering onto Richard's card,'' Harris said, sending this bill to back up his claim: Download Melhana Invoice. "They took the total charge and billed it in increments of $504." 

Weird. Harris said part of the reason for the confusion was that Rubio and his family sent all of their checks for the reunion to the RPOF, which then distributed them to American Express to pay off his and Corcoran's bills. But when first asked about the trip weeks ago, Rubio never mentioned the Corcoran charges or RPOF's involvement. "I had to collect payments from my family members and send the checks directly to American Express."