Pollster Frank Luntz of Fox News fame was paid $340,000 to shape Marco Rubio’s political career before the Republican became a senator and eventually a presidential candidate.
Breitbart News has run a series of reports on Luntz’s financial history with Rubio in the state of Florida, prompting Luntz to call this reporter an “asshole” and say that Breitbart News is “so far up Trump’s ass.” But now a major newspaper in Florida has confirmed Luntz’s payments, which were substantial.
The Tampa Bay Times reported in an extensive feature on Rubio’s early career:
He is best known for a book called 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future, filled with proposals from upgrades to state building codes to an increase in education tax credits for companies. The concepts were drawn from lawmakers and people across the state who attended “idea raisers.” The book was dreamed up by Richard Corcoran, a Rubio staffer who will become speaker next year, but Rubio was the face of the project and reaped the attention. The book is copyrighted in his name.
Rubio traveled the state to promote the book, making contacts he would rely on later for his Senate race. He got messaging and polling help from Frank Luntz, now a well-known Fox News figure. Newt Gingrich hailed Rubio as a visionary. Bush wrote a glowing foreword.
Allies and enemies saw the book as expensive self-promotion, draining party resources and staff time. Luntz alone was paid more than $340,000.
Breitbart News reported on Luntz’s financial history with Rubio, which led to a scandal for Luntz, who held an embarrassingly pro-Rubio focus group on Fox News ahead of the Iowa caucus.
A high-level former elected Florida Republican told Breitbart News that Luntz worked closely over the summer of 2006 with Rubio’s twelve-person leadership team to prepare Rubio for his new elected role as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.
Luntz held a series of focus groups in Orlando and showed people tapes of the thirtysomething legislator. Rubio and his aides would also sit in on some of the sessions, presenting bits of speeches to the focus group participants and also learning firsthand from their observations.
The meetings helped Rubio to write his book 100 Innovative Ideas For Florida’s Future, but they also helped him to deliver his “American Exceptionalism” speech that Rubio finally trotted out before a national audience when he accepted victory in his November 2010 Senate race in Florida. Rubio has subsequently returned to themes from that speech in many of his public statements.
Luntz was hired by Rubio’s team, but the insider did not remember whether Luntz was paid by Rubio personally or by the Republican House leadership organization in Florida, which Rubio at the time controlled.
This all raises serious questions about Luntz‘s credibility and also about Fox News’s role in favoring Rubio over the other candidates. The legendary mainstream Washington magazine National Journal even picked up the scandal in a feature entitled “Luntz Plays Favorites With Marco Rubio.”
Luntz refused to release the names of his focus group participants to Breitbart News so that we could verify the extent to which Fox News helped to select them.
“I’ve never released the names of anyone,” Luntz said, noting that he’s done “a thousand” focus groups. “I’ve never released the names.”
Luntz repeatedly attacked Breitbart News. “You are so far up Trump’s ass,” Luntz said, calling this reporter an “asshole.” “You’re full of shit.”
When Marco Rubio missed the Conservative Review convention in South Carolina, prompting a scandal, Sen. Tim Scott revealed that Rubio skipped the Mark Levin-hosted event in order to do a focus group with Luntz. Rubio ended up losing the South Carolina primary badly amid fallout from his absence at the convention.
At the last Fox News debate in Detroit, this reporter spotted Luntz near the stairwell of the press room. Luntz, visibly shaken, angrily mumbled about “Trump” to a journalist he was talking to and walked away to avoid me.
When Luntz spoke at the University of Pennsylvania in 2013, a student leaked video to Mother Jones of Luntz trashing Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin to defend Rubio on amnesty. Furious at the student for leaking the video, Luntz vowed to never again speak at the college. Luntz, a University of Pennsylvania alum, also discontinued a scholarship at the school in his father’s name.