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As GOP Hopeful Rubio Rises, So Does Scrutiny

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Marco Rubio's bid for the Republican presidential nomination is gaining momentum. And as his standing has improved, the Florida senator is having to answer questions about his personal finances again. Over the weekend, Rubio's campaign tried to put some of those questions to rest by releasing old American Express statements. NPR's Greg Allen reports from Miami.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Over a 22-month period, the records show Rubio ran up about $7,200 in personal charges, all of which his campaign says were reimbursed directly to American Express. They're from 2005 and 2006, after Rubio had been designated speaker of the Florida House. For months, reporters have been requesting the statements. The delayed release led to speculation they contained embarrassing charges. But when they finally were released over the weekend, there were few surprises.

Here's what we did find. The largest charge - $3,700 - for flooring what Rubio described in his autobiography as stone pavers. He says he accidentally pulled the wrong credit card from his wallet - $1,700 for a hotel and car rental in Las Vegas when he extended a business trip for personal reasons. Rubio's campaign released the statements after his personal use of the state party credit card became an issue in the race after Donald Trump said of Rubio, he's a disaster with his credit cards. At the last debate, CNBC's Becky Quick tried to ask Rubio about his finances without success.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BECKY QUICK: In terms of all of that, it raises the question whether you have the maturity and the wisdom to lead this $17 trillion economy. What do you say?

MARCO RUBIO: Oh, you just listed a litany of discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents, and I'm not going to waste 60 seconds detailing them all.

ALLEN: Rubio deflected the question, never explaining why he used the state party credit card for personal expenses. He also didn't offer anything on why a second home he co-owned went into foreclosure or why, after making a million dollars with his book and buying a boat, he cashed out a retirement account, paying thousands of dollars in taxes and penalties.

This isn't the first time Rubio's credit card has been in the news. It came up in 2010 when he ran for U.S. Senate but didn't stop him from being elected. Later, the Florida Ethics Commission investigated Rubio's spending and dismissed the complaint against him. Brian Crowley, who edits Florida's Crowley Political Report, says the new records reinforce the portrait of a rising politician without a lot of money who took full advantage of his connections and position.

BRIAN CROWLEY: But I don't think anybody's suggesting at this point that he did anything particularly wrong.

ALLEN: Crowley says while the credit cards are old news to many Florida reporters, they merit new attention, as do other things, like Rubio's close ties to Miami billionaire Norman Braman.

CROWLEY: The relationship that includes his wife getting a job with him - he's his number one political backer and financial backer. I think Rubio has never been shy about taking advantage of opportunities that come his way. I think he walks the line a little bit.

ALLEN: The latest disclosures appear unlikely to slow Rubio's gathering momentum in the Republican field. In recent weeks, he's moved into third position in polls behind Ben Carson and Trump. And some of Rubio's support is coming from people who used to support his friend and fellow Floridian former governor Jeb Bush. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.