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Thursday, Aug 28, 2014
Politics

Gov. Scott's personal assets shielded from public


Published:

TALLAHASSEE - Floridians had access to more information about Gov. Rick Scott's substantial wealth when he was a candidate three years ago than they do now.

During his first-ever run for public office, the former hospital chain executive and multi-millionaire released three years of tax returns and a lengthy list of all his business holdings. He reported a net worth of $218 million right before he mounted his campaign, spent $70 million of his own money to get elected and then reported a net worth of $103 million as he took office.

The filing he turned in last month shows that his net worth last Dec. 31 was nearly $83.8 million, a drop of nearly 19 percent since 2011, and almost all of it stored in a blind trust with assets shielded from public view.

It's not clear whether the assets have simply lost value or were transferred to his wife Ann. Florida law does not require elected officials to report their spouse's financial status as many other states do.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater and one of the chief architects of a measure passed this year to beef up the state's ethics laws, said there was a simple reason for that.

"The spouse is not in elected office," he said.

In many ways, Florida has never had a governor like Scott. His wealth is far greater than that of previous governors - including Jeb Bush, who had been a successful businessman before entering politics. Scott is refusing his $130,000 salary, as his trust paid him $3.1 million last year. He uses his family's personal jet to fly around the state, saving taxpayers the expense.

It's not known how wealthy his family is.

The trust was established two years ago to remove Scott's direct control over his finances in order to avoid potential conflicts. It is managed by a New York firm that includes two of his former business associates.

When he set up the trust, Scott did not disclose what his money was invested in.

His latest financial disclosure has just 14 lines of information. It showed a beachfront home in Naples worth $9.2 million and the trust account worth $72.8 million, with no specifics as to its investment.

Scott's annual financial disclosures also don't include anything about the assets owned by his wife of 41 years, who contributed nearly $13 million out of her trust account to help her husband get elected. Ann Scott was running an interior design company when her husband was elected, but tax returns show it wasn't making any money.

Right before he was sworn into office, Scott transferred to his wife shares in Solantic, a chain of urgent care clinics he started. Those shares were later sold to a New York investment firm after the governor was criticized for potential conflicts of interest.

Scott also doesn't own the plane that he uses. It's owned by a company controlled by a company that lists Ann Scott as its only officer. Scott administration officials last year also said it was Ann Scott who in 2011 purchased a family vacation home in Montana. None of these assets is included in Rick Scott's reports.

"The governor is going to comply with Florida law and Florida law has a long tradition of recognizing that husbands and wives can have separate lives," said Pete Antonacci, Scott's general counsel.

Responding to Associated Press questions, Antonacci said Friday that the governor will give state ethics officials a list this week of assets that were placed in the blind trust.

Scott is under no legal obligation to do that.

He already had an opinion from Florida's ethics commission that he would avoid any conflicts if he set up a blind trust to handle his finances.

But Antonacci said the governor has decided out of an "abundance of caution" to follow a new state ethics law that gives public officials a "safe harbor" from conflict charges if they turn over a complete list of assets that were in a blind trust when it was set up. That law was not in place when Scott first came into office.

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