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A Times Editorial

Private wealth and public accountability

Republican candidate for governor Rick Scott has shown in the past week he's not above exploiting his role as a hospital executive in a family's private medical issue to get votes — yet he still refuses to candidly answer questions about how his company ultimately paid a $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud. Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene likes to tout his experience as a "proven job creator" as he accumulated a onetime $1.3 billion business empire — yet he still hasn't disclosed information on his finances that would give voters more time to independently evaluate his record. Private business executives have to recognize that running for public office requires more transparency, particularly when their opponents have long public records.

Scott and Greene have earned vast sums of money in the private sector, but they are unknown and untested politically. They have become competitive in their respective races largely because they have spent millions of their own money on television ads and face weak candidates in primary elections. At least the public records are clear for Attorney General Bill McCollum, who faces Scott in the Republican primary for governor, and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami, who faces Greene in the Democratic Senate primary. Scott and Greene are far less transparent and unwilling to go beyond sound bites in describing their track records.

Scott's posturing is particularly galling as he's been exploiting a family's medical crisis on the campaign trail to prove he is a "prolife leader." As CEO of Columbia/HCA he continued to fight a lawsuit filed by a Texas couple whose wishes for the treatment of their premature infant daughter were ignored. And his campaign and a third-party committee have spent at least $20 million on television ads, including one that references the fine his hospital company paid after a federal investigation for Medicare fraud. The ad includes Scott saying he is going to give the "unvarnished truth" and that he "learned" from the experience. He notes he was never interviewed by investigators or charged in the case.

But unvarnished truth apparently has its limits. After the Miami Herald found at least one of Columbia/HCA's illegal practices — giving kickbacks to doctors who referred patients to the company's hospitals — traced back to the original Texas hospitals Scott ran, his campaign declined interview requests. It ultimately issued another oblique and wholly unsatisfactory statement. What lessons did Scott learn? What did he know? Scott won't elaborate. As governor would he insist on giving written statements rather than candid responses to the public?

Then there is billionaire Greene, who sought a one-month delay June 18 in filing financial disclosure papers required under state election law. Greene claimed his attorney "hasn't been able to get it in yet." That Greene — who has the cash to hire a posse of professionals — didn't think it was a priority is disconcerting at best. Now it appears he's intent on making voters wait as long as possible by running out the clock.

With less than six weeks before the Aug. 24 primary, and many ballots already in the mail, time is running short for Scott and Greene to open up to voters about their track records in private business. But they are going to have to offer more than slick television commercials or campaign stump speeches. If they are not comfortable with public disclosure of their private business dealings, they should not be running for public office.

Private wealth and public accountability 07/14/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 6:29pm]
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