TALLAHASSEE — Florida has spent nearly a half-million dollars — and could spend even more — with a large, well-known law firm that has connections to both the Republican Party of Florida and Gov. Rick Scott.
Since August, the state has paid nearly $400,000 to the law firm of Alston and Bird to defend a new state law that requires public employees to contribute 3 percent of their pay to the state pension fund.
The firm was hired at the urging of the Scott administration, which asked Attorney General Pam Bondi to approve paying the firm hourly rates at $495 an hour or nearly $300 more than what is normally allowed.
The Scott administration and Bondi have defended hiring the firm, saying it specializes in the kind of litigation that the state is now involved in.
But the firm's roster also includes a onetime business associate of Scott.
Though not working directly on the lawsuit, a senior counsel with the firm's Washington, D.C., office is Thomas Scully. Scully is also a general partner with the New York investment firm of Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. In June, that firm purchased Scott's shares in Solantic, a chain of urgent-care clinics the governor started back in 2001.
Scully, who once led the Federation of American Hospitals, was appointed to the board of directors of Solantic in 2008.
Scott last year valued his shares in Solantic at $62 million. He initially transferred his ownership interest to his wife's revocable trust before taking office in January. But then Scott sold the shares amid questions as to whether he could benefit financially from state efforts to privatize Medicaid and require drug testing for welfare recipients.
Scott, former head of the massive Columbia/HCA hospital chain, said he has known Scully for 20 years. But he said Tuesday that he didn't know that Scully worked for Alston and Bird.
"I knew that he was with a firm in D.C., but I didn't know the name of the firm," Scott told the Associated Press.
The contract between the state and the law firm caps compensation at $500,000. So far the state has paid out $391,000, a spokesman for the Department of Management Services said.
But Jason Dimitris, general counsel for the agency, said the state is likely to offer Alston and Bird a second contract since the first covered only the circuit trial.