TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a wealthy former businessman who put up millions of his money to help his two campaigns, is refusing to hand over detailed financial information that could answer whether he is violating a state ethics law.
Lawyers for Democratic candidate George Sheldon sought the information as part of their ongoing lawsuit that contends Scott is failing to report his actual wealth as required under the state’s financial disclosure requirements. Sheldon, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for attorney general, filed the lawsuit last October.
Court filings show lawyers hired privately by Scott are vigorously fighting a request to turn over information on trust accounts maintained by Scott and his wife, first lady Ann Scott. Sheldon’s attorney is also seeking information on a financial advisor handling Scott’s money.
“I was surprised to see the governor of Florida claim his finances are private, when in fact the constitution provides they are public,” said Don Hinkle, the attorney representing Sheldon.
Scott’s lawyers, who have termed the request “blatant harassment” in court documents, maintain that the information sought by Hinkle is “highly confidential” or irrelevant to the underlying lawsuit.
Scott attorney Pete Dunbar said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the court filings. Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said Scott is following the law.
“This is nothing more than a frivolous partisan attack launched during a campaign,” Schutz said in an email.
During his first run in 2010, Scott, a multi-millionaire, released his tax returns and a lengthy list of business holdings. Shortly after he took office, he received permission from the state’s ethics commission to set up a blind trust to remove direct control over his finances. The trust is managed by a company that includes a long-time business associate of Scott.
Legislators in 2013 passed a law that authorizes blind trusts.
Last summer, though, Scott briefly dissolved the trust and released information about his individual holdings. He also released his joint tax returns with wife that gave a much broader picture of Scott’s finances. The tax returns showed that the Scott family earns millions more than the governor reported he earned individually.
Sheldon maintains that Scott is flouting the 2013 law because filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission show he had substantially larger holdings in several companies than what he reported to the state. The lawsuit contends there are trusts, separate from Scott’s blind trust, that are investing in the same companies, and that the SEC forms list the multiple trusts as being connected to Scott.
Scott’s lawyers say the lawsuit is “misleading” and they have explained the differences between SEC filings and state filings as primarily due to the involvement of Ann Scott. Florida law does not require spouses of elected officials to reveal their financial holdings.
Dunbar has asked a circuit judge to throw out of the lawsuit because he argues that any complaint about Scott’s financial disclosure should be handled by the state ethics commission and not in court.