Friday, April 20, 2018
Politics

PolitiFact Florida: Fact-checking the latest NextGen attack on Gov. Rick Scott

NextGen Climate, a deep-pocketed, proenvironmental group, has unleashed another attack on Gov. Rick Scott as it relates to a drilling project that the state ultimately shut down.

"The Collier family, owners of the company that leased their land for oil exploration to the drillers that threatened drinking water for 7 million Floridians," stated the narrator in the TV ad. "Rick Scott took $200,000 from them and now he is trying to hide from it. Sound familiar?"

The ad then says, "He took the 5th 75 times" and replays video footage of Scott at a 1995 legal deposition saying, "I don't recall. I have no idea. What's your question?" As many Floridians know, Scott's pleading the 5th was related to a Medicare case, not oil drilling.

But this new ad tacked on another allegation that we will fact-check here: Is Scott trying to hide from this donation?

The backstory is that in 2012, Collier Resources Co. leased about 120,000 acres of mineral rights in Collier County to the Dan A. Hughes Co. But despite residents' protests — including in front of Scott's home nearby — the state Department of Environmental Protection granted Hughes a permit to inject acid deep underground to fracture the limestone.

Hughes wanted to try an additional procedure that hadn't been allowed in Florida in the past. Last December, Hughes went ahead and used that procedure, even though DEP had asked it to hold off. That led the department to fine Hughes and later file a lawsuit, which Hughes is fighting.

The Collier family is not a party to the lawsuit, nor is Scott in his personal capacity.

Why does all this matter for the ad? Because four members of the Collier family — Barron, Miles, Parker and Thomas — each gave $50,000 to Scott's Let's Get to Work Committee in January 2013. This led NextGen to allege in a previous ad that Scott was too cozy with oil interests:

"A dangerous new type of oil drilling near the Everglades threatened drinking water for 7 million Floridians," part of the ad states. "But one Floridian is benefiting. Rick Scott drank from a fountain of campaign cash from the company that profited off pollution."

The ad didn't mention Hughes, the oil drilling company, or the Colliers, the landowners who gave the donations, by name. Because the ad lacked those specifics, and because no pollution has been found so far, we rated that ad Half True.

The newest NextGen ad takes this dispute a step further, saying Scott not only took the money but that "he is trying to hide from it."

That's a reference to an argument by the Scott campaign that it didn't take donations from Hughes. The Miami Herald reported that Scott's campaign spokesman, Matt Moon, strongly denied NextGen's suggestion that Scott had taken campaign cash from Hughes, the driller. "In fact, no political entity associated with Gov. Scott has ever received contributions from the company — in this election or 2010," Moon said.

The Republican Party of Florida took a similar strategy in an ad, saying, "Crist's team says Gov. Scott took contributions from this polluter. It's total fiction. Scott didn't take a nickel. Scott held the polluter accountable. Shut down the wells."

In fact, both sides are spinning here.

The GOP is correct that Scott didn't take a nickel from Hughes, but NextGen's ad didn't say he did. In the meantime, the Republicans are omitting a key point — that Scott did take money from the Colliers, who are connected to the project because they leased the land for the drilling.

In the new ad, NextGen's attack is somewhat careful in its wording. It didn't say that Scott "is trying to hide it." That would have been misleading — these donations are a public record and Scott hasn't done anything to restrict access to those records. Quite the contrary — those donations have been reported by many media outlets, starting in January 2013 when the Colliers first donated the money.

Instead, NextGen said Scott is trying to "hide from" the donations. There's some truth there: When attacked over the donations, Scott's camp released a statement that was essentially a misdirection. Scott's statement failed to acknowledge that the landowners gave Scott's campaign money, even though Hughes didn't.

For its part, NextGen's charge that Scott is trying to "hide from" the Collier donations is exaggerated. The transaction was reported publicly per standard procedure, and it has been discussed widely in media reports.

The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details. So we rate this claim Half True.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/florida.

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