Floridians have a valid interest and a constitutional right to know where their governor is investing his money and whether he is financially benefiting from public policy he helps set. Now there are reasonable questions — and a lawsuit — over whether Floridians have a complete picture of Gov. Rick Scott’s financial interests. Scott should immediately address the discrepancies between his federal and state financial filings, and he already should have released his 2013 tax return. It appears the governor is significantly wealthier than his state financial disclosure reports indicate and that he could be hiding some conflicts of interest.
In 1976, as part of the “Sunshine Amendment,” voters rewrote the Florida Constitution to require public officials to disclose all of their financial assets so citizens can judge when a public office is at risk of being used for private gain. The result is that once a year, all elected and some appointed officials must file financial disclosure forms with the Florida Commission on Ethics.
But a review of those state documents by the Times/HeraldTallahassee bureau has found curious discrepancies between Scott’s state reports and federal filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That review suggests that Scott still has considerable financial interests tied up in a collection of family financial trusts that he has never fully disclosed to Floridians — even after spending $73 million of his own fortune in 2010 to win the governor’s race. Nor have the governor and his wife released their joint tax return from 2013.
The federal documents suggest the blind trust Scott lists on state documents — and created after his election — may not be in compliance with the 2013 state law that detailed how such instruments could be utilized by public officials seeking to comply with the state’s financial disclosure policies. There appears to be connections between the blind trust’s manager and the other Scott family trusts. Scott’s name also appears on some instruments held in the other trusts’ portfolios.
The magnitude of the omissions could be staggering. George Sheldon, the Democratic candidate for attorney general and a former deputy attorney general under Bob Butterworth, filed a lawsuit last week asking a judge to force Scott to disclose all his holdings. His lawsuit says public documents suggest financial interests of as much as $340 million in Scott’s family trusts. Scott’s Florida disclosure lists a net worth of just $132.7 million.
The federal documents also appear to contradict Scott’s public statements that he transferred much of his wealth into a trust for his wife and has no control over it. Documents show it is a revocable trust that Scott could recall or influence at any time. Ann Scott donated $11.3 million to her husband’s 2010 campaign effort, and her trust owns the private plane he uses for state travel. Perhaps most disturbing, it’s also clear some Scott family trusts hold interests in companies that benefit from state policy — including a 474-mile natural gas pipeline under construction for Florida Power & Light.
Scott can’t have it both ways. He can’t expect voters to trust him enough to re-elect him but not trust them enough to be transparent about the size and scope of his wealth and financial interests — and potential conflicts of interest.
Does Scott want to be governor, or protect his millions from public scrutiny and avoid accountability to the voters? Under the Florida Constitution, he can’t do both.