Bill Clinton had a line during his 1992 campaign that he said, mantra-like, so often in fact that eventually it lost its meaning and was just a cringe-inducing song-like chorus. The line, the slogan, was, “People who work hard and play by the rules.” It was—until he repeated it to a point well beyond when people actually would think of its meaning when they heard it, rather than just cringe or role their eyes—a very effective campaign mantra and also one that said something meaningful. And it’s a line that I’ve thought of repeatedly since Thursday night’s debate.
Marco Rubio neither works hard nor plays by the rules. Except, of course, the rules that politicians these days play by, although Rubio has throughout his political career—which is to say, virtually throughout his adult life once he graduated from law school—been jaw-droppingly adept at it, finding two billionaires to sponsor his political career and shore up his personal finances. One of them is human, the other is a corporate person.
The corporate person is GEO Group, the second-largest private, for-profit prison company in the United States—is there another country that has a private-prisons industry? I have no idea—and whose company’s only client is government entities. Including the State of Florida, thanks to Rubio during his tenure as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives (of billionaires, human and corporate). The other is Miami billionaire Norman Braman.
A common refrain about Rubio is that he’s a man in a hurry. A refrain that I trust is about to become common is that he also is a man on the take. Which he is. Pure and simple. This spade needs to be called a spade, and will be, whether it’s Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders—or a massive swell from the news media of the sort that, finally, is occurring in the wake of Wednesday’s debate calling all but one member of the entire cast (Kasich was the exception) grifters, scam artists, fraudsters, liars on a truly grand scale—that begins it loudly enough to be heard.
Regarding GEO-Group-as-Rubio-family-financier, the first article about it (to my knowledge) in a major national publication was by Staten Island-based freelance writer Michael Cohen published in the Washington Post on April 28 of this year. Its title is “How for-profit prisons have become the biggest lobby no one is talking about.” Its subtitle is “Sen. Marco Rubio is one of the biggest beneficiaries.” Among its paragraphs about Rubio is this one:
Marco Rubio is one of the best examples of the private prison industry’s growing political influence, a connection that deserves far more attention now that he’s officially launched a presidential bid. The U.S. senator has a history of close ties to the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison company, GEO Group, stretching back to his days as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. While Rubio was leading the House, GEO was awarded a state government contract for a $110 million prison soon after Rubio hired an economic consultant who had been a trustee for a GEO real estate trust. Over his career, Rubio has received nearly $40,000 in campaign donations from GEO, making him the Senate’s top career recipient of contributions from the company. (Rubio’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)
The statute of limitations has run on potential public corruption charges under the federal criminal code. But many public officials have been charged and convicted for conduct that bears, let’s just say, a resemblance to Rubio’s. Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell would dispute that his was one such case, since McDonnell contends that when he pushed that vitamin supplement in exchange for $165,000 (or whatever the amount was) in gifts and sweetheart loans, he did so not in his official capacity but as a private individual.
Then there is the curious case of Norman Braman, Florida tax policy when Rubio was speaker of the Florida House, and Rubio’s job teaching Political Science at a Florida public university courtesy of a newly created and paid for in full by Braman after Rubio left the Florida House in order to run full-time for the U.S. Senate. (Full time except for that adjunct teaching position, of course.) In an article published Monday on Alternet, Lou Dubose of the Washington Spectator summarized the details as revealed earlier by The New York Times:
In an interview with The New York Times, the senator described Norman Braman, a Miami billionaire who once owned the Philadelphia Eagles and now sells BMWs, Rolls-Royces, Cadillacs, Audis and Bugatis, as “a father figure who had given him advice on everything, from what books to read to how to manage a staff.”
Braman, the Times reported, gave Rubio more than advice.
He contributed $255,000 to an advocacy group Rubio formed to lobby for one of his signature-mark initiatives while he was speaker of the Florida House of Representatives: a dramatic reduction of property taxes and increase in the state sales tax.
When Rubio left state government, he got a job teaching at Florida International University, committing to raise his salary from private donors. Braman contributed $100,000 to the university, earmarked for Rubio’s salary.
Braman donated to Rubio’s U.S. Senate campaign, and hired Rubio as a lawyer for seven months while he campaigned. He hired Rubio’s wife, and her company, to work for his charitable foundation. And he is reported to have committed $10 million to Rubio’s presidential campaign.
The New York Times reporters suggested that Rubio’s involvement with Braman will lead to a more thorough examination of the Florida Senator’s personal finances as the presidential campaign continues.
Dubose’s article is titled “Marco Rubio’s Financial Messes” and subtitled “Fishy financials don’t make for a great campaign.” And, really, they don’t.
Rubio’s debate riposte—not about any of this, which he wasn’t asked about, but to a question about problems with his and his wife’s handling of their family’s cash flow—was that, well, he unlike Bush and Trump comes from a family of very modest means, and as an adult he received no financial assistance from his parents. This presumably will do double duty as a response to questions about what the conduct that many people, I suspect, will view as amounting to public corruption. But it’s a line that will continue to work only until someone other than me—to reiterate, e.g., Trump, Sanders, Clinton, or journalists—points out that many, many people who come from families of very modest means actually do work hard and do play by the rules.
Many of them, like Rubio’s mother, whom he mentioned during the debate in reference to Medicare and Social Security—he said she relies on them—are weak as people. So, too, is he, by his own admission, for allowing his mother to rely on those federal programs rather than supporting her, including paying her healthcare costs. Like people did in the old days. I was unaware of this admission by him, and in fact was unaware that he thinks Medicare and Social Security weaken us as people, until I read Steve Benen’s post yesterday on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC blog (h/t Paul Waldman):
Later, the far-right Floridian referenced entitlements – Rubio is on record condemning Medicare and Social Security for “weakening us as a people” – and said to laughter, “Nothing has to change for current beneficiaries. My mother is on Medicare and Social Security. I’m against anything that’s bad for my mother.”
That same record (video, actually) includes, specifically, Rubio’s statement that Medicare and Social Security have made us as a people lazy.
It will be a relief to many that as long as Mrs. Rubio is alive, Medicare and Social Security will be safe under a Rubio presidency. Enabling the lazy Rubio to avoid having to support her.
The Democrats can only hope that Marco Rubio will be the Republican nominee for president. Our current campaign finance system reduces most American politicians to ventriloquists’ puppets, but Rubio is unmistakably Charlie McCarthy reincarnate. To the point of comedy. Like the original Charlie McCarthy. Next time you hear or see him speak, just think of how comfortably he would fit on Edgar Bergen’s lap.*
A week or two ago I read—I don’t remember where—that there is a Super PAC tied to Rubio that has a huge amount of funding but only one donor, whose identity is anonymous. Rubio indeed would fit perfectly on Edgar Bergen’s lap, but here’s betting that that donor isn’t Edgar Bergen.
*Link to Paul Krugman’s blog post from this morning titled “Policy and Character” added. 10/30 at 11:01 p.m.