TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist clashed over tax returns Wednesday in a sign of just how bitter their race will be if Crist is the Democratic nominee for governor.
As Scott launched a new statewide TV ad criticizing Crist for not releasing tax returns, Crist released his past three returns, but not his wife Carole's, and said he won't.
"What is Charlie Crist hiding?" a woman narrator asks in the ad, paid for by Scott's political committee, Let's Get to Work. As Carole Crist appears briefly on screen, the narrator says: "Millionaire Charlie Crist refuses to release his spouse's tax return."
Crist said Scott was "out of bounds" to make his wife a campaign issue and demanded that Scott take the ad off the air.
"He put my wife in an ad?" Crist said. "That's shocking. The man has no integrity. That's beyond the pale. … He should apologize to her and me."
But Scott, who has faced criticism for dodging questions and a secretive travel schedule, appears to be using the tax return issue to gain an advantage over Crist in a debate over transparency.
"Charlie Crist doesn't believe in transparency. So what's he hiding?" Scott said at the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach before addressing a broadcasters' convention. "I can't believe the Florida public is going to let him get away with this."
Scott said candidates' wives are fair game in a campaign.
Scott noted — as he does in the TV ad — that in 2010, the Democratic nominee for governor, Alex Sink, released her tax forms and those of her husband, Bill McBride, even though they filed separately.
Charlie and Carole Crist married in December 2008 and file separately. She is an owner of a family Halloween costume and novelty business, Franco-American Novelty Co., and has created a second company, Goddessey.
The lawyer listed as registered agent for Goddessey is Crist's brother-in-law, St. Petersburg lawyer Emory Wood.
Crist said he filed an individual tax return because he has always done so.
"I was a single guy for a long time," he said. "She's got her own business and it's her business."
Florida elected officials are required by law to file an annual statement showing their assets and liabilities. They are not required to release tax returns, but candidates for governor have traditionally done so.
Crist on Wednesday released his tax returns for 2011, 2012 and 2013, his first three years out of office after he unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate.
They show that Crist's income immediately shot upward in comparison to his state salary, largely because of his job at Morgan & Morgan, a high-profile personal injury law firm.
In 2011, Crist paid $199,000 in federal income taxes on adjusted gross income of $591,000. In 2012, he paid taxes of $239,000 on income of $705,000. In 2013, he paid $196,000 in taxes on income of $541,000.
His annual salary at Morgan & Morgan was nearly $300,000 each year.
Crist reported $110,000 in income in 2012 from Coastal Construction Group, a Miami contractor, and $90,000 from Marketing Solutions Publications of St. Petersburg.
His returns list no tax-deductible contributions to charities.
Crist's net worth is $1.25 million. His tax returns for past years, which are on file at the state Commission on Ethics, show that his sole income was his state salary.
For example, his return for 2006, the year he ran for governor, shows $129,000 in income as attorney general.
Scott last week released his and his wife's joint returns for 2010, 2011 and 2012. He reported a net worth of $132.7 million, nearly a 60 percent increase over last year's net worth of $83.8 million.
Scott said Wednesday he could not explain the increase.
"There was a third party running my assets. I didn't know. I put my assets in a blind trust. I think governors should. It prevents conflicts so I don't know what investments I have," the governor said.
The Scotts' returns were prepared by an accountant in Bedford, Texas. The Scotts' 2013 return was not released because they filed for an extension.
Ann Scott owns an interior design firm but their 2012 return shows that neither reported any wages. Scott does not accept a salary as governor.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush, seeking re-election in 2002, released 10 years of tax returns.
In a situation similar to the current one between Scott and Crist, Bush prodded opponent McBride to release his wife's returns, even though Alex Sink was in private business and filed a separate tax return.
"As long as there is an ability to transfer money between spouses, then the finances of one are as relevant as the finances of the other," Bush campaign spokesman Todd Harris said at the time.
Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.