Within weeks of taking office in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott made one of the worst decisions of his administration and refused $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. Within months of leaving office, the governor now thinks the rail line is a swell idea. No wonder. It turns out the governor and his wife invested at least $3 million in a credit fund for the parent company of the outfit that wants to build the rail line. Scott is a walking conflict of interest, and this is another exhibit in the growing case for overhauling financial disclosure requirements for Florida candidates and officeholders.
Let's follow the time line. As Mary Ellen Klas of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reports, All Aboard Florida and its parent company gives more than $200,000 to Scott's 2010 campaign and his inauguration. Scott kills the plan in 2011 for high speed rail, which would have been running by now. He hires as his chief of staff in 2012 an executive at another firm owned by All Aboard Florida's parent company. All Aboard Florida, now operating as Brightline, starts running diesel-electric trains this spring between Miami and West Palm Beach. The state announces in June that Brightline wants to build a high-speed connection between Tampa and Orlando, the governor calls that "exciting,'' and the state will seek proposals.
Here's what's missing in that time line that Floridians didn't know: Scott and wife last year invested at least $3 million in a credit fund for All Aboard Florida's parent company, and it could be much more. The federal financial disclosures Scott was required to file as a U.S. Senate candidate show two of Ann Scott's three holdings in a credit fund for Fortress Investment Group — All Aboard Florida's parent company — are worth "over $1 million.'' Scott's disclosure shows the governor's blind trust holds between $500,000 and $1 million in the credit fund, Fortress Secured Lending Fund. And last year, the Scotts' investment in that fund produced at least $150,000 in income.
That's information Floridians should know as they evaluate whether Scott's public policy decisions have been affected by his family's personal investments. Yet they would have remained in the dark without the federal financial disclosure forms. Most of the governor's investments are held by a blind trust, and the state does not require the finances of spouses of state officeholders to be publicly disclosed. As the old Florida slogan goes, the rules are different here.
Of course, Scott and his allies insist there is nothing to see here. The governor often repeats that the bulk of his investments are in the blind trust and he has no control over it. Even though the blind trust has been managed by one of Scott's longtime business associates. Even though one of Scott's largest assets — a plastic components company he bought in 2005 and in which he and his family still controlled 66.7 percent — was sold last year in a deal that brought as much as $550 million to the governor and his family. Even though Scott's family has bought and sold assets that mirror those held by Scott's blind trust — like, say, holdings in a credit fund for the parent company of another company that wants to build a high-speed rail line that Scott once opposed and now calls "exciting.''
Scott is the wealthiest governor in Florida's history. Yet Floridians have no idea exactly how wealthy, and they would have no idea of his potential conflicts of interest from investments by his "blind trust" and his wife if he had not decided to run for U.S. Senate. Florida should reform its financial disclosure requirements for candidates and officeholders to at least mirror the federal requirements.