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Politicians’ use of blind trusts is constitutional, Tallahassee judge rules


Published:   |   Updated: July 28, 2014 at 05:57 PM

A state law allowing politicians to use blind trusts to avoid conflicts of interest is constitutional, a Tallahassee judge ruled Monday.

Jim Apthorp, a former top aide to the late Democratic Gov. Reubin Askew, had challenged the law in May.

He said the use of blind trusts violates the Sunshine Amendment, approved by voters in 1976, which calls for elected officials and candidates to “file full and public disclosure of their financial interests.”

Askew, Florida’s governor from 1971-79, had championed the amendment’s passage.

Blind trusts shield their beneficiaries from knowing where money is coming from to avoid conflicts.

“This court finds that the plain language of the Sunshine Amendment provides the Legislature with authority to enact laws governing financial disclosure,” Circuit Judge John C. Cooper wrote.

“Further, by allowing an official to avoid potential conflicts of interest that may arise between his or her public duties and private financial interests, the qualified blind trust statute is reasonable, appropriate and consistent with the Sunshine Amendment’s purpose of promoting ethics in government.”

Gov. Rick Scott is the only statewide official who has a blind trust. He released copies of his federal tax return after qualifying to run for re-election.

That decision “was a step in the right direction, but the governor still has not provided the full and public disclosure of his finances required by the Sunshine Amendment,” said Sandy D’Alemberte, Apthorp’s lawyer.

Greg Blair, spokesman for Scott’s campaign, said the governor “went above and beyond to provide transparency when he disclosed his assets as well as tax returns for both himself and the First Lady (Ann Scott) when he filed for office.”

Apthorp first filed a complaint against the state with the Florida Supreme Court, which sent the case to a trial court.

Cooper, who sits in Leon County, entered his final order in the matter on Monday, court dockets show.

Apthorp, in a statement, said he hasn’t decided whether to appeal Cooper’s decision.

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