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Gov. Rick Scott's office bills taxpayers $25,000 for consultant's work

TALLAHASSEE — A Memphis company that helped dig up dirt on Gov. Rick Scott's campaign opponents has relocated to the state capital. Among its new clients: Florida taxpayers.

It's unclear, however, exactly what Floridians received for their $25,000.

Scott's office, which approved the payment, said no documents related to the company's research on applicants for Scott's administration during the three month transition between Election Day and inauguration exist.

But the Times/Herald obtained an eight-page report circulated among Scott's transition team that shows the company's founder researched at least one of Scott's eventual hires.

Democrats said Scott should have received hundreds of pages of research for that amount of money.

"Either Rick Scott is throwing around taxpayer's hard-earned dollars to his political consultants for doing nothing or he's breaking Sunshine Laws," Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff said. "Either way, he has to come clean to the taxpayers."

The contract is the largest transition expense so far out of $74,000 that Scott has billed to taxpayers. Lawmakers gave Scott about $800,000 to spend on the transition.

The agreement was with Strategic Information Consultants, the political and corporate research arm for Next Generation Strategies, which recently incorporated in Tallahassee.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement handles traditional background checks, including criminal records, for new hires in the governor's office. But Scott, who ran for his first political office last year, needed help vetting "thousands" of applicants for potential vulnerabilities, said Brian Burgess, Scott's spokesman.

Next Generation also earned $70,000 from the Republican Party of Florida since December. A party spokesman would not elaborate on how the company's consulting was used.

The company, run by Ryan Richetti and Josh Cooper, is the second with connections to Scott's campaign that has opened shop near the Capitol.

In January, Harris Media of Austin, Texas, announced it would open a Tallahassee office. The firm hired Scott's daughter, Allison Guimard, as the office's vice president of business development and marketing.

Burgess, Scott's spokesman, said the governor's executive office was not responsible for producing records from the transition.

"We are not the custodian of those records," Burgess said. Asked to name the custodian of transition records, Burgess said it "is the individual who actually possesses the records."

Burgess said he hasn't asked the transition team to search for the records. The transition team was headed by Enu Mainigi. Mainigi, a Washington lawyer who ran the transition from the campaign's Fort Lauderdale headquarters, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

With no records available to the public, Burgess said, taxpayers should hold Scott accountable for the $25,000 contract by judging the specific administration hires.

"That's the ultimate product," Burgess said.

Times/Herald staff writer Lucy Morgan and Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Michael C. Bender can be reached at mbender@sptimes.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelCBender.

Gov. Rick Scott's office bills taxpayers $25,000 for consultant's work 04/19/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 9:29pm]
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