As the wealthiest governor in Florida history, Rick Scott took office as a political novice with a problem: how to maintain and disclose his wealth, yet avoid conflicts of interests.
Scott had two major solutions to insulate himself from the inevitable criticism about profiting from state actions during his term: He could report all his assets on his state financial disclosure form and let the public see everything, a sunshine-is-the-best defense, or he could set up a so-called "blind trust," an I'm-in-the-dark-about-my-investments defense.
Scott chose the second option.
"I put everything in a blind trust," the governor said this summer. "So I don't know what's in the blind trust."
But rather than put the controversy to rest, Scott's decisions raise questions about the accuracy and completeness of his financial disclosures as well as the governor's role in managing his vast personal fortune.
The governor, for instance, does not disclose the entire value of 17 assets that reside in at least eight different trust and partnership accounts and for which he's listed in federal records as the "beneficial owner," according to an extensive Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times review of hundreds of federal and state documents filed in Florida, Washington, Connecticut, Texas, Nevada and Illinois. The documents also show:
•Information about Scott's income and investments provided on state disclosure forms differ from financial information he furnished to the IRS and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Download Argan_Scott
•The various Scott family investment trusts and partnerships often act in tandem with his blind trust and involve Scott's long-time financial advisors — raising questions about how independent the trust is from the governor. Download Argan_2014 Download Quepasa_10k_2006
•Between 2009 and 2013, the income reported on the governor's state financial disclosure and the income reported to the IRS differed each year, fluctuating as much as $41 million in a single year.
•Scott's call for more transparency from his campaign opponent has not extended to all of the trusts and family partnerships from which he and his household have profited.
•Though he says he's "blind" to his trust, he has signed off on transactions involving some of its assets in recent SEC reports. Download Argan_2012 Download WirelessTelecom Download NTS_2013_excerpt
•Taken together, the trail of documents and financial instruments indicate Scott's net worth for 2013 could be far higher than the $132.7 million he reported. Download Scott 2013 Financial Disclsoure
The Herald/Times asked to be briefed by the governor's tax and investment advisers but were denied an interview. Earlier this week, the newspapers then supplied detailed written questions, as well as copies of related documents, to the governor's lawyers. General Counsel Pete Antonacci said they distributed the questions to the financial experts but were unable to provide a response by the end of the day on Friday.
For nearly 40 years, the Florida Constitution has required state elected officials to annually make a "full and public disclosure of financial interests [via] a sworn statement showing net worth and identifying each asset and liability in excess of $1,000."
But Scott has disclosed only a portion of his assets, in part because of the new state blind trust law that he signed, which is now being challenged in court. Story here.