By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
On little notice last week, the legislature voted unanimously to repeal Florida’s failed indiscriminate trust law – a short-lived law best known for allowing Republican Rick Scott to protect tens of millions of dollars of his assets from public view, while immunizing him from many conflicts of interest as governor.
The ultra-wealthy Scott, now a junior senator from Florida, was offered the measure as part of a âcomprehensive ethics reformâ bill overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature in 2013 and “With pleasure” promulgated by Scott shortly after. Until new Secretary of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, a Democrat, established a “qualified” blind trust last January, Scott was the only state official to benefit from Law 112.31425. Florida.
Voting to reject blind trust, without acknowledging error or malfeasance, were many of the same senators who sponsored and voted for it six years ago. They include Republicans Tom Lee of Brandon, Rob Bradley of Orange Park, Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, David Simmons of Longwood, Wilton Simpson of Spring Hill, Kelli Stargel of Lakeland and Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers. Democrats include minority leader Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville, Bill Montford of Tallahassee and Oscar Braynon II of Miami Gardens.
Why did they and everyone in the House and Senate want to erase Florida’s blind trust law from the books?
Neither the Senate nor the House’s written analyzes of the repeal bill offer any reason. Likewise, Scott’s name and examples of his conflicting financial interests cannot be found here.
Yet in a brief April 10 hearing before the Senate Rules Committee, Senator Lee, the sponsor of the bill, offered a reason. Noting that qualified blind trusts are “generally” used to hide wealth and investments from public view, Lee said that everyone, “regardless of their level of wealth … should abide by the same set of rules as everybody”.
“You can learn a lot of things …”
âYou can learn a lot about a person based on their livelihood and how they invest their money,â Lee said. “And these disclosures are fundamental to our responsibilities as elected officials and no one should be allowed to be exempt from them.”
Lee did not explain why it took him six years to come to this conclusion – after Scott was no longer eligible to benefit from Florida’s blind trust law.
Lee did not respond to requests for comment.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis will soon decide whether to sign or veto the bill. Given his huge margin of support, the decision should be an easy one.
Scott established a blind trust and placed his huge portfolio of stocks, bonds, partnerships and other financial assets within a few months of taking office in 2011. His protection against conflicts of interest between his functions official and private financial interests kicked off in two years. later when he signed the blind trust bill. Scott stopped using a blind trust when he traveled to Washington, where federal blind trust rules are significantly stricter than in Florida.
The idea behind a blind trust is to eliminate any semblance of conflict by “blinding” a public official – and by extension the public – to the nature of the holdings. If the official does not know that he owns shares in a pipeline company, for example, he cannot be blamed for taking actions that benefit the pipeline company.
But Florida’s blind trust law omitted a dozen federal guarantees intended to ensure true blindness, especially conditions requiring the trustee to be truly independent. In Scott’s case, the trustee was a company run by Alan Lee Bazaar – who had worked for Scott for over a decade at his company, Richard L. Scott Investments.
The failure of the blind trust became evident in March 2014 when Florida bulldog reported how Scott and his wife, Ann, had made more than $ 17 million in the past 15 months selling hundreds of thousands of shares of Argan, a publicly traded company that Gemma Power Systems did business in. Florida.
The sale of Argan shares held in the blind trust quickly became a public matter. Scott owned so much stock that he was required to publicly report the sales to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. Scott’s spokesperson at the time said the governor had no knowledge of the sales, but it was Scott himself who filed the electronic documents with the SEC.
There are many other examples of ostensibly blind financial interests that then exploded against Scott. Among the most notable were his hidden stake in Spectra Energy, builder of the Sabal Trail pipeline in North Florida that Scott and his appointees backed, and his investment in the hedge fund that owned 21st Century Oncology, to whom Broward Health governor appointees awarded an unprecedented 25-year contract to provide radiation oncology services in 2012.
However, Scott’s biggest investment in a blind trust was in the 2017 sale of Michigan-based Continental Structural Plastics to Japanese conglomerate Teijin in an $ 825 million deal. The windfall for Scott’s blind trust: $ 203 million.