1. Opinion

Ruth: Government for the people (with cash)

Published Oct. 14, 2013

In the end, it didn't hurt Gov. Rick Scott's campaign war chest when he had to cancel a political theater of the absurd $25,000-a-head alligator hunt.

There were two key problems. First, Scott aides overlooked state law requiring permits to hunt alligators. How could you expect the governor's folks to know anything about state law? Second, there was a real possibility that some of Scott's boosters might have been mistaken for ill-tempered predators known to eat their young. This could have gotten messy.

No matter. Scott had no difficulty pulling in $18.5 million for his re-election effort, sparing Las Vegas gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson the indignity of schlepping around a swamp when all he had to do was dash off a $250,000 check to the governor's Let's Get To Work slush fund.

No doubt Adelson's gift was a patriotic gesture in support of good government for all the people and had absolutely nothing to do with expanding gambling operations in Florida.

As the chief executive officer of the fourth largest state and given his vast personal wealth, Scott might argue he is above the temptations of money. Perhaps the governor's office can't be bought, but it certainly can be had for a long-term time-share arrangement.

Scott's Let Get To Perks racket has pulled in $2.5 million from health care interests (including $637,500 from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida), $1.2 million from real estate companies, $1.1 million from the "gaming" (read: gambling) industry, $980,000 from agricultural concerns, $911,000 from the insurance business, $865,000 from other political action committee bag men, $760,000 from developers and $729,000 from state-regulated utilities.

And this is only as of Sept. 20. We still have 13 months to go before the 2014 gubernatorial election, when you have to believe the ultimate tally of legalized baksheesh will top the $70 million Scott spent of his own money in 2010 to buy the governorship as if it was a charm bracelet trinket.

This is the fully intended consequence of not imposing campaign contribution limits on candidates. What constituency of Joe Sixpacks can have any confidence their interests are being looked out for by a governor who pals around with a portfolio of silk stockings, beholden to their largess?

Take St. Petersburg's own Daddy Warbucks, Bill Edwards. He is the manager of the Mahaffey Theater, owner of the BayWalk shopping complex and the proprietor of the Club at Treasure Island.

Edwards confirmed Monday he is laying off nearly 500 employees from his Mortgage Investors Corp. and is not making new loans. The firm was hit in June with a $7.5 million fine by the Federal Trade Commission for violating Do Not Call rules. But somehow Edwards managed to find $500,000 in the couch cushions to send to Rick Scott's Let's Get To Pork gratuity action committee.

Perhaps Edwards was offering the generous campaign check to the governor in the event that if gambling is indeed expanded, the Club at Treasure Island would be a snazzy spot for a few roulette tables.

It's reasonable to ask why so many people and special interest groups would pony up $18.5 million in support of a sitting governor whose approval ratings lag behind the Florida Swamp Ape, Florida Marlins owner Jeff Loria and jellyfish.

And as political figures go, Scott exudes all the joie de vivre of It's a Wonderful Life's Mr. Potter.

At the same time $18.5 million can buy a great deal of air time, transforming the governor's personality into an action hero. It buys an awful lot of access, too.

Up in Washington, government has ground to a virtual standstill.

But as Scott has demonstrated, the governor's office is wide open for business if you have the financial wherewithal to pay the cover charge.

It's an open question ,though. Is Scott running for governor — or a well-tipped maitre d'?