The friends of Marco Rubio

In trying to pick the best candidate for president, it's important to know who is bankrolling them and what their views are. Rubio's biggest supporter is a billionaire car dealer named Norman Braman, who has pledged to give millions to Rubio's campaign. This by itself is not unusual.

What is unusual about this, however, is that Rubio is heavily in debt, and for a time he and his wife was actually directly on Braman's payroll.

Mr. Rubio left the Florida House of Representatives in 2008 with a net worth of $8,351, multiple mortgages and $115,000 in student debt. In his latest financial disclosure form, for 2013, he reported at least $450,000 in liabilities.

Mr. Braman and aides to Mr. Rubio have declined to say how much personal financial assistance he has provided to Mr. Rubio and his wife, directly or indirectly, but it appears to total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

...When Mr. Rubio left state government, determined to shore up his finances before running for the United States Senate, he landed a teaching job at Florida International University, agreeing to raise much of his salary through private donations. Mr. Braman gave $100,000. ... In the spring of 2010, as Mr. Braman was donating heavily to Mr. Rubio’s Senate campaign, his company, Braman Management, hired Mr. Rubio as a lawyer for seven months. According to records provided by Mr. Braman, the company paid Mr. Rubio until a week before he was sworn in as a senator....  Four months after Mr. Rubio left the payroll, Mr. Braman hired Mr. Rubio’s wife, Jeanette, who had little professional experience in philanthropy, and her company, JDR Events, to advise the Braman foundation.

What did Braman get for his generousity? First, donations to his pet charity cause

Mr. Rubio quickly emerged as a dogged champion of Mr. Braman’s most cherished cause: state funding for a Miami cancer institute that bears the Braman family name. Florida’s governor, Jeb Bush, had vetoed the funding in 2004, incurring Mr. Braman’s public fury. “Frankly, as a very active Republican, I’m ashamed of him,” Mr. Braman said then of Mr. Bush. Mr. Rubio did not let it happen again. The next year, he secured the cancer funding over Mr. Bush’s objections. “Marco,” Mr. Bush wrote in a somewhat grudging email to a lobbyist at the time, “strongly wanted the Braman Cancer money.”

And second, support for lowering property taxes and raising the sales tax.

When Mr. Rubio announced his signature legislative goal, an initiative to slash property taxes and raise the sale tax, Mr. Braman contributed $255,000 to the advocacy group lobbying for the changes, becoming by far its largest donor.

I dug deeper, but couldn't find anything else about Mr. Braman's policy views, other than that he had campaigned against other property and sales tax increases.

It isn't clear that Senator Rubio did anything illegal, nor is it clear that Mr. Braman personally benefitted from any of Mr. Rubio's actions. But two things make me uneasy: (1) Mr. Braman is funding Mr. Rubio with millions, and we don't know what Mr. Braman's ideology is and (2) Senator Rubio and his wife have apparently been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars directly and indirectly from Mr. Braman. I'm not talking about contributions to his campaign; I'm talking about payments to Senator Rubio and his wife for various forms of employment. At the least, Mr. Braman is a generous former employer.

I look at this differently because it is one thing for a wealthy person to have some influence by donating to a campaign; but that influence is much greater when you have given money directly to a person, for personal use, rather than a campaign. Furthermore the fact that Senator Rubio, as recently as two years ago, was nearly a half million dollars in debt, is even more disturbing. His precarious finances may make him more reliant on Mr. Braman, a man who we know very little about.

Thomas Lifson adds:

First of all, note the source: the New York Times. Many on the left fear Rubio more than any other GOP candidate for his age, looks, Hispanic identity, Spanish fluency, and ability to win over centrist voters. Second, it is far from unusual for rising politicians to find patrons. People who have made a billion dollars sometimes spot political talent and want to act as a sponsor. And not just in the icky cash-for-favors mode of, say, a mining magnate seeking to buy uranium and needing US government approval. Ronald Reagan was very close to wealthy Los Angeles car dealer Holmes Tuttle, for example, and a group of wealthy longtime supporters was known as his “kitchen cabinet” for the advice thety provided him during his political career, into his presidency.

Unless there is evidence of actual favors for cash, I don’t see any reason for concern. Marco Rubio was not born to wealth, and in this day and age, one needs a lot of money to run for office. This is something to be aware of, and something the left will try to use. If they do, Hillary has a lot of her own baggage, starting with her amazing skill at trading cattle futures. In that case, there were people on the losing end of her striong of successful trades that actually were victimized.

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