This story has been updated.
Rising tensions between former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Republican presidential primary rival Marco Rubio broke out into the open Friday after the two campaigns began exchanging pointed fundraising-related barbs, culminating with a senior Bush campaign aide accusing the senator from Florida of intentionally exaggerating fundraising totals reported to the media and the Federal Election Commission.
“Lying about budgets. Guess Marco picked up something in the Senate,” Bush communications director Tim Miller tweeted Friday in an uncharacteristically blunt attack against Rubio, whom the former governor has described as a personal friend.
At the heart of the dust-up is the Rubio campaign’s repeated assertions that it has been more frugal than other campaigns, at times specifically singling out Bush’s team. “Here’s why Marco Rubio’s campaign has more cash in the bank than Jeb Bush for President,” tweeted Rubio communications director Alex Conant Thursday.
The campaigns’ attacks on each other have intensified in recent weeks as the two candidates jockey for higher standing in national polls. On one side, Bush is trying to counteract the narrative that his campaign has reached an impasse and is losing support among influential donors. On the other, Rubio is attempting to capitalize on the increased attention he has received since his strong debate performance earlier this month.
Bush’s campaign on Thursday and Friday specifically took issue with the way the Rubio campaign characterized its third quarter fundraising totals to supporters and to news media. Rubio’s campaign indicated to donors earlier this month that it had raised $6 million between July and September, a figure that was then widely reported by various media outlets, including The Washington Post. A review of the campaign’s quarterly financial disclosures – released by the FEC on Thursday – showed a more precise fundraising total of $5.7 million.
The Bush campaign announced Thursday that it had raised $13.4 million during the last financial period — more than twice as much as Rubio — and held about $10 million cash on hand. Within minutes after the Bush team announced its fundraising numbers to the media, the Rubio campaign released a boastful statement titled, “Marco starts Fourth Quarter with $11 million on hand.” The statement stressed that Rubio’s team had more money in its coffers than the Bush team, despite being outraised.
“Thanks to smart budgeting and fiscal discipline, Marco Rubio for President started October with more money in the bank than Jeb Bush for President and most other campaigns,” said the statement.
Bush campaign aides privately grumbled that that specific statement and others had intentionally fudged the numbers to seem as though Rubio’s team had a commanding lead over Bush with regard to its cash on hand.
Several publications, including the Tampa Bay Times, on Friday released stories pointing out that about $1.2 million of Rubio’s total $10.9 million cash on hand was, in fact, general election funds and therefore inaccessible to Rubio unless he becomes the nominee. Adjusted down, the campaign has $9.7 million cash on hand to use for the primary.
According to the FEC, it’s not unusual for primary campaigns to add money designated towards the general election to their cash on hand in their campaign disclosures.
When asked about its own fundraising totals, the Bush campaign said its $10 million cash on hand did not include general election funds.
The Rubio campaign did not immediately reply to a request for comment.