Florida governor still locked in legal battle over finances
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to launch a bid for the U.S. Senate next week, remains entrenched in a legal battle over whether he has sidestepped state laws that require him to fully disclose the extent of his vast personal wealth.
Scott’s attorneys are challenging a lower court’s refusal to dismiss the lawsuit. But on Friday, Tallahassee attorney Don Hinkle asked a state appeals court to let the case move ahead.
“The governor is taking extraordinary measures to avoid disclosing his finances to the people of Florida,” said Hinkle, who was a top fundraiser for former President Barack Obama. “Procedurally and substantively, his petition is unfounded. It is a delaying tactic as he seeks to run out the clock on having to disclose how much money he has made being governor of Florida.”
Hinkle adds that if the Republican governor runs for the U.S. Senate he will finally have to reveal more details that he has previously. Scott, who is leaving office in early 2019 because of term limits, is expected to announce his candidacy Monday against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, has called the lawsuit “nothing more than a publicity stunt.”
“He should quit wasting everyone’s time,” Tupps said in an email.
Scott, who is a multimillionaire and does not accept a salary, first built his fortune as the head of the hospital giant Columbia/HCA. He was forced out of the job amid a federal investigation into fraud. Although Scott was never charged with any wrongdoing, the company paid a then-record $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud.
During his first run in 2010, Scott released his tax returns and a lengthy list of business holdings. Shortly after he took office, he received permission from the state’s ethics commission to set up a blind trust to remove direct control over his finances in an effort to avoid possible conflicts. But the trust is managed by a company that includes a longtime business associate of Scott.
Back in 2014, George Sheldon, a Democrat running for attorney general, filed a lawsuit that alleged Scott may have underreported his actual wealth by as much as $200 million. The lawsuit was eventually tossed out by a judge who said it needed to be considered by Florida’s ethics commission. Hinkle, who had represented Sheldon, independently filed complaints with the commission, but that panel concluded Scott was following the law.
During his re-election three years ago, Scott briefly dissolved his blind trust and released joint tax returns with his wife that gave a much broader picture of his finances. The tax returns showed that Scott’s family earns millions more than the governor reported he earned individually. Hinkle’s lawsuit contends that Scott has control over a family trust with his wife Ann and has failed to disclose all the assets in it.
Hinkle last November went back to a Leon County circuit court, seeking to get a judge to weigh in. In late February, Judge Karen Gievers refused to dismiss the case. Scott’s general counsel is now arguing that the trial court has no authority to consider the lawsuit.