It is part of a broader narrative that The Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times, and other Florida newspapers have been reporting about for years. This March 2010 story by the Tampa Bay Times and The Miami Herald remains a good starting point for the national media to learn more about Rubio’s difficulties.

Marco Rubio was barely solvent as a young lawmaker climbing his way to the top post in the Florida House, but special interest donations and political perks allowed him to spend big money with little scrutiny.

About $600,000 in contributions was stowed in two inconspicuous political committees controlled by Rubio, now the Republican front-runner for the U.S. Senate, and his wife. A St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald analysis of the expenses found:

• Rubio failed to disclose $34,000 in expenses—including $7,000 he paid himself—for one of the committees in 2003 and 2004, as required by state law.

• One committee paid relatives nearly $14,000 for what was incorrectly described to the IRS as “courier fees” and listed a nonexistent address for one of them. Another committee paid $5,700 to his wife, who was listed as the treasurer, much of it for “gas and meals.”

• He billed more than $51,000 in unidentified “travel expenses” to three different credit cards—nearly one-quarter of the committee’s entire haul. Charges are not required to be itemized, but other lawmakers detailed almost all of their committee expenses.

Rubio’s spending continued in 2005 when the Republican Party of Florida handed him a credit card to use at his own discretion. While serving as House speaker in 2007 and 2008, he charged thousands of dollars in restaurant tabs to the state party at the same time taxpayers were subsidizing his meals in Tallahassee.

After months of helping to anoint Rubio as the savior of the Republican Party, some members of the national media may be ready to take a closer look. Bret Baier of Fox News did a more than 30-minute interview with Rubio last week and asked many uncomfortable questions. Rubio worked his charm and handled most of them deftly. Still, at long last, the questions are being asked.

The national media should have been asking them a while ago, and it is still a better story than simply guessing who might be on Romney’s short list.

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Brian E. Crowley is editor of Crowley Political Report. A political journalist for more than two decades, Crowley is an analyst for WPTV NewsChannel 5 in West Palm Beach and is a principal of ImMEDIAcy Public Relations.