Sunday, August 19, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Florida should improve financial disclosure laws for politicians

Two forms of reporting paint dramatically different pictures of Rick Scott’s personal wealth — and of the ethical conflicts that could arise for a governor of the nation’s third-largest state. Those differing portraits raise concerns about the a lack of transparency, and the problem likely will get worse. The Florida Legislature should address it by adopting stronger, federal standards for state officeholders that provide more clarity about their personal investments.

Scott released a detailed financial statement in July, disclosing for the first time that he’s worth at least $255 million, with more than $173 million in his wife’s name outside a blind trust that is intended to prevent conflicts of interest. The disclosure came as part of Scott’s campaign for U.S. Senate. Unlike Florida law, federal law requires him to reveal assets held by either him or his wife. That total figure is higher than an earlier state filing in July. And Ann Scott’s assets are outside the $82 million in the blind trust that Scott said was intended to remove him from any conflicts of interest as governor.

This is the first time the Republican governor has disclosed his wife’s holdings. The filing shows that Scott’s wife holds most of the family assets; "spouse" is listed as owner of every asset on 84 pages of a report that must be reviewed and approved by the Senate Ethics Committee. But the details remain vague; federal candidates are required to report the value of their assets only in broad ranges, as opposed to specific amounts, making it impossible to know exactly how much the Scotts are worth. The report said Ann Scott holds as much as $500,000 in stock in NextEra Energy Partners, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, the parent company of Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest investor-owned utility.

Blind trusts serve a laudable goal of keeping elected officials from co-mingling their public and personal business. Scott is the only elected official in Florida who has placed assets in a blind trust. The move makes sense for the governor and three Cabinet members who vote on statewide issues, such as land purchases and contracts. But the state’s reporting requirements are too lax. At a minimum, the Legislature should require that trusts include all assets owned or controlled by an elected official and his or her spouse. And any trustee for a blind trust should truly be an outside, third party. Scott’s current trust adviser is a former business associate of the governor’s. And Politico reported this week that Ann Scott gave a loan between $100,000 and $250,000 to an accountant who formerly worked at the governor’s investment firm and who’s now employed by the firm overseeing Scott’s blind trust.

This problem will likely only get worse in the coming years, as more wealthy candidates who have the ability to self-fund their campaigns seek elected office. At least two Democrats who are seeking to succeed Scott have said they intend to use a blind trust or are open to it. Florida’s financial disclosure requirements for candidates and officeholders should be reformed to better ensure that blind trusts are really blind and that all of the family’s assets are included in a blind trust or publicly disclosed.

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Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Within weeks of taking office in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott made one of the worst decisions of his administration and refused $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. Within months of leaving office, the governor...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Hillsborough has a place among growing number of governments suing opioid makers

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Local governments across the land can find plenty of reasons to go after the drug industry over the crisis of opioid addiction.Hillsborough County can find more reasons than most.• In 2016, the county led the state with 579 babies born addicted to dr...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

The environmental crisis in South Florida has fast become a political crisis. Politicians in both parties are busy blaming one another for the waves of toxic algae blooms spreading out from Lake Okeechobee and beyond, fouling both coasts and damaging...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

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Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/16/18

Bumping into GOP cowardice on guns

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Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

The revelation that three people in Pinellas County have contracted the measles virus should be a wake-up call to everyone to get vaccinated if they haven’t been — and to implore parents to immunize their kids. Contagious diseases such as measles can...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

A good reputation can vanish overnight, which is why Habitat for Humanity of Hills-borough County made a smart decision by announcing it would seek to buy back 12 mortgages it sold to a Tampa company with a history of flipping properties. The arrange...
Published: 08/14/18
Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

40%of Americans who were eligible to vote for president in 2016 just didn’t bother. That number dwarfs the portion of all eligible voters who cast a ballot for President Donald Trump — 27.6 percent — or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton, 28.8 percent...
Published: 08/13/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe made a reasonable decision to charge Michael Drejka with manslaughter in last month’s deadly Clearwater convenience store parking lot confrontation. The shooting, which erupted over use of a handicap parkin...
Published: 08/13/18
Editorial: Politics aside, arguments are clear for moving appellate court to Tampa

Editorial: Politics aside, arguments are clear for moving appellate court to Tampa

It’s time to re-establish a permanent home for the state appeals court that serves the Tampa Bay region.It makes sense to put it in Tampa, the same as it made sense 30 years ago when the court’s operations began moving piece by piece up Interstate 4 ...
Published: 08/09/18
Updated: 08/10/18