Sen. Marco Rubio's chief of staff, Cesar Conda, still receives payments from an influential lobbying firm. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., continues to move a little closer to being that “Washington insider” he campaigned against in 2010.

A report released this week points to Rubio’s righthand man as a chief example of a growing ethics problem in Washington, D.C.: that revolving door between lobbyists and the people they lobby on Capitol Hill.

In the case of the man Rubio hired to be his chief of staff, Cesar Conda, they are one in the same.

According to the Republic Report:

Conda left Navigators Global in January of 2011 only days before being tapped as Rubio’s chief of staff, the most influential non-elected position in a congressional office. But the relationship with Navigators Global, which continues to lobby Congress for at least 16 different clients — including private prison powerhouse GEO Group, New York Life Insurance, and UPS — didn’t end.

Republic Report reviewed Conda’s latest personal finance disclosure, filed last month with the Senate clerk’s office, which reveals that he received between $50,000 to $100,000 in payments from Navigators Global after becoming a public servant under Rubio. The disclosure shows thats Conda continues to own a stake in his old lobbying firm, and that he continues to share in the firm’s financial success.

It’s also worth noting that The Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo in 2010 reported on another Rubio lobbying controversy. According to Caputo, Rubio was actually a lobbyist at the same time he was a state lawmaker. By then, Rubio had already secured his spot as Florida House Speaker and was running for the U.S. Senate seat he would eventually win.

Caputo wrote:

Rubio never talked about his lobbying and that’s because, his campaign said, he wasn’t really a lobbyist. He was a lawyer representing clients.

“The reason Marco Rubio never spoke about his ‘lobbying’ is because he was never a ‘lobbyist,’ in the Tallahassee-influence-peddling sense of the word that Charlie Crist is all too familiar with,” said campaign spokesman Alex Burgos…

Still, it’s called a lobbyist registration by Miami-Dade. So the ‘L’ word is tough to avoid, though early stories on him running for the Legislature in 1999 merely identified as commissioner and a lawyer.

PolitiFact explained that “his work was not what we traditionally think of as lobbying — the Gucci-wearing attorney who seeks to influence the state Legislature or Congress. [Rubio] worked at the local level, primarily on zoning matters.”

Either way, Rubio was a lobbyist in some form while he was a full-on lawmaker.

This very loophole — one that allows elected officials to work for lobbying firms — in Florida is one of the noted corruption liabilities for the state pointed out in the latest report from Integrity Florida. Integrity Florida is a nonpartisan group that investagates public corruption in Florida. The organization’s latest research also shows that in the past decade there were 781 federal convictions on corruption charges in the state.

In case you were still wondering how much of a Washington insider Rubio has become, Florida’s junior senator will launch a book tour through swing states on July 4 weekend.

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