Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Is Rick Scott’s blind trust that blind?

This is about to get very complicated and financially eye-rolling. But we’re dealing with Florida politics, Florida money and Florida’s bizarre approach to holding its public officials accountable.

Or put another way, Tony Soprano’s New Jersey financial disclosure documents would be more transparent.

As the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau’s Mary Ellen Klas has reported, Gov. Rick Scott had a very good year in 2017. His income rose a whopping 55 percent. How did you do?

Michigan-based Continental Structural Plastics, in which the governor held a 66.7 percent controlling interest, was sold to a Japanese conglomerate for $825 million. So Scott and his family enjoyed a boost to their bottom line of some $550 million. And not a dime of that windfall was required to be reported on the governor’s annual state financial disclosure forms.

We only know about Scott’s good fortune (emphasis on fortune) because documents regarding the sale of CSP had to be filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Japanese regulators and the Florida Commission on Ethics.

When he was elected governor in 2010, Scott who claimed a net worth of $243 million, was supposed to put his considerable assets into a blind trust. That figure jumped — just a tad — with a reported $83 million bump last year.

But the CSP investment has remained largely shrouded from scrutiny. As Klas reported, under Scott’s management the company teetered on insolvency as it struggled with massive debt and difficulties maintaining equipment and customer service operations.

Indeed, despite a state law enabling Scott to place his holdings into a blind trust, the governor did not transfer his management of the company until 2012. By 2013, under new management, CSP rebounded, attracting the attention of possible suitors, among them Mitsubishi and Teijin Ltd, a deep-pocketed Japanese conglomerate. Let’s the games begin.

Fate. It’s an adorable thing.

In 2013, Scott led a trade delegation to Japan where he met with — you won’t believe this —representatives from Mitsubishi and Teijin. What did they chat about? Was the conversation essentially limited to the oeuvre of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai? Or perhaps the talk drifted toward the advice given to Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate. Plastics.

We simply don’t know. Neither the governor, nor his various minions, have much to say to snoopy reporters.

Perhaps some clarification on Scott’s relationship to Teijin and the CSP deal might be found in the disclosure forms required of candidates running for federal office as the governor runs for Senate against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.

The federal disclosure documents require more detail not only of the candidates, but their spouses as well. Scott was facing an end of July deadline to submit the federal financial disclosure materials. But his campaign has requested a 90-day extension to comply. That would delay the filing of the forms almost up to election day, which would leave precious little time for scrutiny.

One question the forms might answer is while Scott is supposed to have zero knowledge of the financial transactions executed by the managers of his blind trust, a Times/Herald analysis noted many of the investments made by his family closely mirrored those of the blind trust.

Is the blind trust really a squinting trust?

To be sure, a fair argument might be made that Scott deserves to be cut some slack because he entered the Governor’s Mansion a wealthy man. And untangling those investments from his public duties as governor is extremely complex. But nobody forced him to run for the job. He knew, or should have known, his life and his bank accounts would be a public record.

Scott has spent nearly eight years as governor bobbing and weaving away from transparency and accountability.

The governor, with his penchant for secrecy, has not earned the a scintilla of forbearance when it comes to giving him the benefit of the doubt — especially when it comes to explaining his profitable time in Tallahassee.

Irony abounds. Klas reported that under CSP’s new management, some production of the company’s plastic components for cars was moved to China and a development plant was built in France.

Who knew when Rick Scott blustered about "Let’s get to work," he was referring to his accountants?

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