Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Politics

Gov. Scott hit with state complaints over airplane use

TALLAHASSEE — Democrats slapped Gov. Rick Scott with three ethics and election law complaints Thursday, accusing him of violating state law by not fully reporting his campaign's use of an aircraft owned by a company in his wife's name.

The complaints follow a Times/Herald report last month that Scott's campaign did not disclose expenditures for use of the Cessna Citation Excel jet that has taken him all over the country on dozens of fundraising and campaign events since he officially became a candidate for re-election in December.

Scott's campaign accused former Gov. Charlie Crist, his likely Democratic opponent, of orchestrating the action and accused him of "mudslinging."

The complaints were initiated by Alejandro Victoria, 22, of Kissimmee, a recent political science graduate from Florida State University who said he is an active volunteer in Democratic politics but is not involved in Crist's campaign for governor.

"I wanted to hold Rick Scott accountable to not be above the law," Victoria said. "I think the governor should be held to a higher standard, and being transparent in this case is the right thing."

Scott's campaign issued a response: "Maybe Charlie Crist and his friends can't read. The campaign pays for the use of the governor's plane, and that is in black and white in our report. This is just pure mudslinging from a guy who mounted a record of failure and then ran away."

The complaints were filed by Ron Meyer, a Tallahassee lawyer and a Democrat who practices election law and lobbies for the Florida Education Association, the state teachers union that strongly opposes Scott's re-election.

"Scott has not made timely payment for the use of the aircraft; nor had he reported the airplane use values, either as an in-kind contribution or a loan," Meyer wrote in one of the complaints.

A second election law complaint contends that each use of the plane by Scott's campaign was an in-kind contribution that exceeded the $3,000 limit, and should have been reported as such but was not. Meyer said the cost of operating Scott's jet is about $2,000 per hour.

The ethics complaint alleges that under state law, the Scott campaign's use of the jet is a gift that must be reported each time, and it has not.

It's not unusual for such complaints to increase in election years, but it may take months for the watchdog agencies to determine whether any of the complaints can be legally justified.

Scott's campaign has previously said it is complying with the law by periodically reporting expenses for air travel throughout the election cycle. The state Division of Elections has said that all campaign expenses must be reported in the month after they occurred.

Several days after the Times/Herald report on April 5, Scott's campaign listed $5,534 in payments for air travel to the jet's owner, Columbia Collier Management of Naples, whose only officer is Scott's wife, Ann.

Scott's latest campaign report, for April, shows no air travel expenses.

The Republican Party of Florida listed payments of $11,323 to the company for travel on its April monthly report. A party spokesman said the payments were for transporting members of Scott's campaign staff.

Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

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