Rick Scott’s personal wealth becomes double-edged sword in race for Florida Senate seat
Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s vast personal fortune cuts both ways in a political campaign: It allows him to self-finance big chunks of the expensive project but it also makes him a target.
And Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, seeking to fend off Mr. Scott’s challenge in one of the most-watched Senate elections this year, is shooting lots of arrows at that target, assisted by intense press scrutiny of the governor’s wealth, which disclosure forms put north of $232 million and which is supposed to be in a blind trust.
Add to that Mr. Scott’s wife, Ann Scott, whose own holdings are at least $170 million, and the press in Florida has created a cottage industry out of perusing their wealth, looking particularly at whether Mr. Scott really is blind to where his cash lies.
His spectacular returns jumping nearly 55 percent last year and the overlap of some investments between his portfolio and his wife’s, which isn’t blind, has been scrutinized and made him a target for Mr. Nelson, whose campaign flatly accuses the Scotts of playing sleight of hand with the blind trusts.
“Rick Scott is in control of his wife’s trust and his trust, and all these investments raise serious questions about conflicts of interest and ethical transactions,” said Dan McLaughlin, a campaign spokesman for Mr. Nelson.
The Scott camp called the charge slanderous.
“My wife runs her own finances that may be a hard thing for Sen. Nelson to understand,” Mr. Scott said in a statement. “Does Sen. Nelson think that my wife couldn’t do that without me? Maybe he thinks a woman is not up to the job of managing her own money. It is no secret that I was successful in business. I’ve heard these attacks for years there are reporters out there who know more about my investments than I do.”
The main chunk of Mr. Scott’s fortune was amassed as a founder of Columbia Hospital Corp., a company he left in 1997 as chairman and CEO during an investigation into the company’s Medicare billings. When the legal dust around Columbia finally cleared, the company had shelled out nearly $2 billion in settlements but did not confess to any wrongdoing.
When he became Florida’s governor in 2011, Mr. Scott put his money into the blind trust.
“Gov. Scott has never made a single decision as governor with any thought or consideration of his personal finances,” said Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone. “The governor’s blind trust is managed by an independent financial professional who decides what assets are bought, sold or changed. The rules of the blind trust prevent any specific assets or the value of those assets within the trust from being disclosed to the governor, and those requirements have always been followed.”
Both Scott portfolios are managed by Alan Bazaar, a longtime friend and associate of Mr. Scott’s who is CEO of Hollow Brook Wealth Management in Katonah, New York. Mr. Bazaar did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Mr. Scott has always portrayed his wealth as an asset for taxpayers he draws no salary and uses his own jet for travel while depicting Mr. Nelson as something of a sponge, making more than $4.4 million while voting himself pay raises in Washington.
From the beginning, Mr. Scott has maintained he plays no part in any buy or sell decisions made by Hollow Brook with his money. Mrs. Scott, on the other hand, does not have to abide by the same arm’s-length position. She has acknowledged she is an active investor, and the couple does have mirrored investments worth millions.
Some specific investments have raised eyebrows among the Florida press and Democrats. Mr. Scott owned two-thirds of a plastics company, for instance, that sold in January 2017 for $825 million, the profits of which were reportedly legally omitted from his annual financial disclosure form in June.
Also drawing attention are allegations that Mr. Scott has money in All Aboard Florida, a private effort to bring a high-speed rail link between Orlando and Tampa, and that he has a $1.1 million position with Gilead, a company that sells expensive hepatitis C drugs.
The high-speed rail looks suspicious partly because Mr. Scott as governor declined offers of federal seed money for such a project when it was favored by President Obama’s administration.
Mr. Scott maintains that was a sound move lest state taxpayers get saddled with a boondoggle such as the one in California, whose ballooning price tag blew through estimates long ago and could near $100 billion. In addition, the campaign says, it is a stretch to say he has invested in All Aboard Florida, as his money went into a debt-servicing fund that counts the private rail venture as a client.
With Gilead, a company that saw its second-quarter hepatitis C drug sales fall to $1 billion from $2.9 billion a year earlier, Mr. Scott was accused of failing to address raging hepatitis C breakouts in Florida’s prisons, and as a result Florida taxpayers had to spend another $21.7 million on the drugs to treat it.
While drawing distinctions between money in a fund and direct stock buys in his portfolio, the Scott campaign points to similar investments Mr. Nelson holds as part of between $2,000 and $30,000 in a Baron Emerging Market Institutional fund, according to his 2016 disclosure forms.
The campaign said money Mr. Nelson has invested with Fidelity could be seen as holding Venezuelan debt, while Baron funds include shares in Sberbank of Russia, which has been hit with international sanctions, and China Mobile, the world’s largest telecommunications company that President Trump blocked from the U.S. market in July.
The Nelson campaign did not respond to questions about the senator’s portfolio.