If there were ever a story that more clearly illustrates the power of money in politics, it’s that of Marco Rubio and his billionaire benefactor, Norman Braman. Thanks to Braman’s decades of support, Rubio has gone from an unknown state lawmaker to a Republican front-runner in the 2016 race for the White House. As we take a look at Rubio’s rise to success, we begin to see that literally every part of his life over the last ten years has benefited from the 82-year-old billionaire’s pocketbook.
The relationship began over a decade ago when a Miami lawmaker introduced the pair. Braman said he was instantly drawn to Rubio because he too was the child of struggling immigrants; the idea of having his own personal politician was probably not an unattractive prospect either. Braman’s net worth is $1.9 billion; he made his money from car dealerships and was the sole owner of the Philadelphia Eagles for a number of years. When Rubio decided to run for the Florida House, Braman and his wife donated $1,000 to his campaign; that’s where the incestuous relationship between lawmaker and billionaire began. Rubio has denied that he ever repaid Braman for his support, but the facts (or a single ounce of skepticism) show otherwise.
Shortly after being elected to the House, Rubio started lobbying fellow lawmakers to support $5 million in funding for the Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute. His persistence paid off and the funding, which had previously been vetoed by Governor Jeb Bush, was awarded to the institute. In an email to a lobbyist, Bush said,” Marco strongly wanted the Braman Cancer money.”
In 2005, Marco Rubio became the youngest speaker of the House and Braman was at the celebration party. When it was time for the young lawmaker to run for re-election, his billionaire sugar daddy, along with more than a dozen companies linked to him, all contributed the maximum $500 donation to his campaign. From 2005 to 2008, the billionaire and his wife also contributed almost $563,000 to the Republican Party of Florida.
Soon after he was reelected Rubio announced that his signature legislative goal would be to cut property taxes and raise the sales tax. Cutting property taxes is one of those things that sounds like a great idea, especially in a state that is essentially a giant retirement center, until you realize that those are the taxes that pay for first responders, schools, and other essential public services. By proposing to raise the sales tax to pay for the cuts, a move that would hit middle class and low-income families the hardest, Rubio made it obvious where his loyalties lay. Meanwhile, Braman was so excited by his protegé’s move that he gleefully donated $255,000 to the group advocating for the legislation.
In 2008, Rubio once again showed Braman how much he appreciated his
support unlimited bank account by steering $80 million in taxpayers’ money to the Miami Institute for Human Genomics, a private university. According to the New York Times, Rubio was asked whether or not he thinks his connection to his benefactor is unethical, and didn’t seem to think so. “What is the conflict?” he asked, somehow with a straight face. “I don’t ever recall Norman Braman ever asking for anything for himself.”
In the same interview he contradicts himself and says that the billionaire did, in fact, approach him for support on the cancer research and genomics projects. As a matter of fact, when the $80 million was awarded to the private university, Rubio credited his support to Mr. Braman:
Usually, Mr. Rubio said at a news conference at the time, he would have laughed off such an eye-popping pitch. “But when Norman Braman brings it to you,” Mr. Rubio said, “you take it seriously.”
The relationship between the two goes much deeper than business- Braman is also funding Rubio’s personal finances. When Rubio left office in 2008, he and his wife were deeply in debt. He had multiple mortgages and a net worth of less than $9,000. Although nobody is entirely certain, it is suspected the 84-year-old businessman has given Rubio and his family hundreds of thousands of dollars. Soon after leaving office, Rubio landed a job at Florida International University. His agreement with university was that he would raise most of his salary through private donations; Braman once again came to the rescue and donated $100,000.
Rubio soon announced that he would be running for U.S. Senate and challenging Governor Charlie Crist in the Republican primary. Braman, who had previously supported Crist, threw the weight of his wallet behind Rubio. He and his wife donated $9,600 to Rubio’s Senate campaign and another $60,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He also hired Rubio as his attorney for more than seven months. When Rubio won the Senate seat, Braman paid for a trip to Israel for both his family and the Rubios. A year later Braman hired Rubio’s wife to work for his family’s cancer foundation.
Now that Rubio is running for president, Braman has said that he may spend upwards of $10 million to make the Senator the first Hispanic president.
On the surface, Rubio has attempted to paint their relationship as one between a parental figure and his ambitious son, but the stories of personal phone calls every day after Rubio’s father died are only a thin emotional veneer disguising the corruption underneath. Braman has essentially bought himself a politician. Over the years, Rubio has paid him back with millions of dollars in taxpayer money and it’ll be even worse if he becomes President of the United States. People even call Braman “Rubio’s Secret Weapon.“
The 2010 trip to Israel is a giant red flag. Braman claims that he doesn’t expect anything in return for his endless supply of money, but the first thing he did after Rubio was elected was bring him to Israel. After that trip to Israel, the new Senator became one of the most vocal supporters of the Israeli agenda, refusing to support Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran until Tehran recognized Israel as a country, an untenable amendment that would tank the deal entirely.
If Braman succeeds in his quest to make Rubio the first Hispanic president, you can bet that he will heavily influence both foreign and domestic policy. The waters of their relationship run far too deep to even pretend this isn’t a quid pro quo arrangement, and that a vote for Rubio is a vote for Brahman’s private agenda. This is a man who, in 2011, paid for an entire recall election against the mayor of Miami and he has Rubio in his back pocket. American politics are already far too poisoned by the influence of money; we cannot tolerate such a blatant violation of ethical governance by a presidential candidate.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.