Ethics and the governor's race 

Rick Scott and Charlie Crist trade ethical filings as campaign gets dirtier

click to enlarge SOURCES: MIAMI HERALD, TAMPA BAY TIMES, CHARLIE CRIST PRESS OFFICE
  • Sources: Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Times, Charlie Crist press office

“It doesn’t get more ironic than Rick Scott, after pleading the Fifth 75 times to avoid going to jail and leading one of the largest fraud schemes in the history of the U.S., directing his staff to file an absurd ethics complaint against Charlie Crist, the People’s Governor.

– Kevin Cate, spokesman for Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial campaign, in a statement

JUST THE STATS

 

$135,000

Amount Gov. Rick Scott invested through a blind trust in French oil services company Schlumberger Ltd., according to 2011 disclosures. An ethics complaint has been filed.

 

$11,323

Amount the Republican Party of Florida paid Columbia Collier Management of Naples for use of a Cessna Citation Excel jet for campaign purposes. An ethics complaint has been filed.

 

$297,000

Amount Charlie Crist made from Morgan & Morgan in 2013; Republicans have filed several ethics complaints against Crist’s campaign, mostly based on advertisements for the firm that feature Crist.

Blinded by the light

In a statewide political climate where terms like “ethics” and “transparency” are typically used as window dressing to block out those harmful rays of sunshine that are written into Florida law, it probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that this year’s gubernatorial contest has already devolved into a spitball match of accusations of unethical campaign behavior and willful misdeeds. But even by the standards you might tend to measure the filed-and-documented acrimony of a former (and formerly) Republican governor fighting against a fairly unlikable Republican incumbent in a hotly contested, highly expensive race, you might find yourself lost in the crossfires this time around. Everybody, it seems, is doing everything wrong.

Last week, the ethical conundrum reached its apex, with possibly the most damning accusations yet being volleyed from both sides of the rhetorical classroom. On June 17, South Florida Democrat John Lundin lodged a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics regarding the recent revelations that Gov. Scott might have significant financial interest in the world’s largest oil servicing company, Schlumberger Ltd. Sure, Scott’s a gazillionaire, so he naturally can’t keep up with each and every one of his investments, and that’s precisely why he doesn’t. In 2011, after ascending to his purchased throne of governorship, Scott shifted his investment portfolio into a blind trust over which a third party would lord. One of those blind investments consisted of $135,000 worth of Schlumberger black-gold servicing. It turns out that Schlumberger has worked with Texas oil company Dan A. Hughes Co. to obtain oil-drilling permits from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection – which is basically controlled by Scott, who has already drawn the ire of environmentalists because Scott sneakily cleaned out said department in 2012 to avoid further obstruction of drilling interests. From there the slope gets slipperier, as things covered in oil do. Scott released his (and his wife’s) income tax records for the last three years along with details of the blind trust. Boom, Schlumberger is no longer listed. That doesn’t mean Scott’s completely off the hook, though, at least in the realm of appearances.

“It’s very two-faced,” Sierra Club member Alexis Meyer told the Tampa Bay Times. “To have a governor who invests our money for Everglades restoration but also supports a company that wants to drill in the Everglades makes me very uncomfortable.”

It isn’t the first time Scott’s blind trust (!) has been called into question. Last month, following the announcement of a lawsuit challenging the validity of blind trusts filed by former Sunshine-making Gov. Reubin Askew’s chief of staff, Jim Apthorp – which was joined by the First Amendment Foundation and the Miami Herald, Florida Times-Union and the Associated Press, among others – the Republican Party of Florida crowed that the suit was the “height of hypocrisy.” You see, all those media outlets had apparently supported the vaunted ethical reforms passed in 2013 by the Legislature, and those ethical reforms included blind trusts. Everyone’s in the tank for Crist! This is a “partisan hatchet job,” the RPOF said in a statement.

But partisan swings both ways, and so it was on June 18 that the RPOF lodged its latest ethics complaint against Crist. RPOF executive director Juston Johnson took Crist to task over what he perceived to be some kind of payola deal in which, while negotiating for his well-paid position with the Morgan & Morgan law firm in 2010, Crist – who was still governor – appointed a Morgan attorney named Joseph Linnehan to the Judicial Nominating Committee. The catch is that Johnson is accusing Crist of using Linnehan as a bargaining chip for his own position at the law firm. Oh, dear. It isn’t the first time that someone has called Crist out for selling the judiciary to the highest bidder. As the Miami Herald points out, current Ponzi-scheme prisoner and former Crist donor Scott Rothstein – also appointed by Crist to the JNC – first accused Crist of the same unscrupulousness. Crist is quick to point out that Rothstein is in prison for a reason, and he probably shouldn’t be trusted. Oh, but the optics.

For those keeping score, so far this year the RPOF has gone after Crist at least twice: once alleging that Crist’s face on Morgan billboards was a violation of election laws (turns out that was the fault of the billboard company for not taking them down), then alleging that Crist’s appearance in a television commercial for Morgan & Morgan was another violation (again, this was virtually dismissed when the television outlet airing the ad admitted it had run it by mistake).

Democrats have so far been hanging their whole campaign around Scott’s absence of ethics, right down to his historically challenged core. Their first television buy shows Scott (with hair!) pleading the Fifth Amendment 75 times in his attempt to avoid the brunt of his Columbia/HCA Medicare fraud charges (the company ended up paying a monumental $1.7 billion in fines). Meanwhile, Democrats lodged an ethics complaint (and elections complaint) in May for the governor’s unreported costs in using his private airplane. That private airplane is owned by a company which lists Scott’s wife Ann as its sole officer – because Gov. Scott wanted to trim the fat when he took office, so he sold off the state’s two private planes. After media scrutiny, Scott adjusted his reports to show that he had spent $5,534 on flights, while the RPOF had ponied up $11,323 in April. All of which is still kind of strange when you consider that, in his 2010 campaign, Scott spent $280,000 on arguably fewer flights than he’s making now.

“Scott has not made timely payment for the use of the aircraft, nor had he reported the airplane use values, either as an in-kind contribution or a loan,” Florida Education Association lobbyist and election lawyer Ron Meyer wrote in one airplane complaint, according to the Miami Herald.

Of course, as we should all know by now, disclosure isn’t Scott’s strong suit. His refusal to sit down with local CFNews 13 reporter Ybeth Bruzual for some softball patter made national news last week after Bruzual took Scott to task on air for wanting to script the whole affair, basically in Spanish, in order to appeal to a bloc of voters for which he holds no appeal.

“The campaign responded to us saying that the only way that they would do the interview is if it was conducted by a reporter of their choice, and that the topic covered would only be Hispanic outreach,” Bruzual said on air. “Our management agreed that it would set a dangerous precedent to accede to such conditions and declined the campaign’s request.”

Well, at least he didn’t show up and plead the Fifth. In Spanish.

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