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  1. Opinion

Ruth: Rick Scott's web of financial wizardry

It seems Gov. Rick Scott is not just a man of considerable affluence. He also is blessed with a wealth of obfuscation.

This should not have been all that hard. But this is Florida, the land of the la-dee-dah! So it was that Scott, as the opaqueness in chief, managed to turn what ought to have been a simple, transparent disclosure of all his financial assets upon assuming public office into a Rube Goldbergesque maze of eye-glazing accounting.

When Mary Ellen Klas and Marc Caputo of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau set out to review the governor's state and federal financial documents, they ran into a mountain of paperwork that resembled the final warehouse scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Upon winning the governor's office four years ago, Scott could have merely provided a complete list of his assets on a state disclosure form for all the public to see. Done. After all, it was certainly no secret that Scott, who had bought the Governor's Mansion with some $75 million of his own money, was very, very well-off.

Never missing an opportunity to treat the governorship as the Skull and Bones Society, Scott opted for the path of least accessibility by creating a blind trust, which in reality turned out to be more of a wink, wink/nod, nod Tallahassee Sidestep squinting trust.

In theory, the governor should have absolutely no influence over the blind trust, which is supposed to be managed by an impartial, independent trustee.

What Klas and Caputo discovered was that Scott's income and investments reported on state disclosure forms differ wildly, by as much as $41 million, from what the governor reported to the Internal Revenue Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission. It's hard to imagine a difference of $41 million was simply a rounding error.

Complicating matters is a complex structure of family trusts and partnerships that often seem to be acting in concert with the governor's blind trust. That only makes sense since Scott's blind trust is managed by the same long-time business associate who handles the financial portfolio of the governor's wife, Ann Scott, which include proceeds from the governor's various and quite lucrative investments.

Say, are you beginning to get the sneaking feeling something may be just a bit squirrelly here?

Take, for example, SEC records that show Scott is the "beneficial owner" of stock spread out over 28 companies with a value of $54.8 million. But Scott only claims a value of $18.1 million on the same holdings in his Florida financial disclosure form. Do you suspect the governor is going to need a bigger calculator?

Does it matter that Scott has managed to create a Byzantine labyrinth of interlocking, vague, shadowy layers of financial cubbyholes that appear to obscure his true wealth? You betcha.

The public has a right to know of conflicts of interest in any governor's holdings. Or consider that Scott has investments in a pipeline developed by Sabal Trail Transmission, Tampa Electric and a Collier County oil drilling company — all entities either doing business with the state or subject to government regulation.

Scott has insisted he is purer than Bambi, arguing he has had zero influence or knowledge of how his blind trust is managed. You may insert some rolling eyes here and perhaps an ahem or two.

The governor's defense that he is the beyond-reproach Diogenes of Tallahassee might have a smidgen more resonance if he didn't have such a lengthy track record of avoiding Florida's long tradition of government in the sunshine.

This is the same governor who destroyed his transition documents; the same governor who encouraged his staff to use private email and cellphone accounts to avoid a public record trail; the same governor who keeps his air travel itineraries secret; and the same governor who hied away to Texas to participate in an undisclosed hunting holiday as a guest of Florida big sugar interests.

And now Scott expects the public to believe he averts his eyes every time his investment guru shows up with a copy of the Wall Street Journal in his hands.

The public may well be the great unwashed and unsophisticated in the ways of high finance. But the citizenry is not naively stupid.

Certainly the optics of Scott's efforts to avoid public scrutiny only deepen suspicions he has been far from a passive, detached nonparticipant in the management of his blind trust portfolio.

How might we view Scott's efforts to deflect and dissemble efforts to learn more about his finances and potential conflicts of interest? A bravura performance of bookkeeping ledgerdemain?

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