As GOP Whip, Rubio Helped Ex-Con Brother-in-Law Get Real Estate License

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Republican Presidential Candidates Speak At Faith & Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" Conference
The Rubio camp's ethical argument is interesting. Photo: Andrew Harrer/© 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP

While serving in Florida’s House of Representatives, Marco Rubio had a number of financial problems, including misuse of a Republican Party credit card. The senator’s messy finances may become a bigger campaign issue if he moves up in the race, and now the Washington Post has added a much simpler ethical issue to the list. The paper reports that in July 2002, when Rubio was majority whip of the Florida House of Representatives, he sent a letter on official stationery recommending that the Florida Division of Real Estate grant his brother-in-law a real-estate license. The problem: Rubio failed to note that Orlando Cicilia is married to his sister, Barbara, and Cicilia had recently been released from prison after being convicted of distributing $15 million worth of cocaine.

I have known Mr. Cicilia for over 25 years,” Rubio wrote, without noting that he was living with Rubio’s parents at the time. “I recommend him for licensure without reservation. If I can be of further assistance on this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.”

While fraud convictions are frowned upon by the seven members of the Florida Real Estate Commission, felons are not barred from holding real-estate licenses in the state, and can have character witnesses testify on their behalf.

Rubio’s presidential campaign adviser, Todd Harris, said it’s “appalling and shameful” that the Post is dragging Cicilia into the race. He argued that the letter is a nonissue because Rubio “recommended scores of Floridians for various professionals positions,” and mentioning his relationship with Cicilia actually would have been “highly inappropriate” since it “could be perceived as exerting undue pressure.”

Danielle Brian, executive director of the government-watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, countered that when personal relationships are involved, that’s actually not the preferred course of action. “The general rule of thumb I apply to conflicts of interest is, if you can’t eliminate them, you need to manage them by disclosing the conflict,” she said. “I’m uncomfortable that he didn’t acknowledge the conflict.”