Lawsuit contends Florida governor is flouting disclosure law

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A lawsuit filed Wednesday by a Tallahassee attorney contends that Florida Gov. Rick Scott has sidestepped state laws that require him to fully disclose the extent of his vast personal wealth.

Don Hinkle, who was a top fundraiser for President Barack Obama, wants a judge to force the Republican governor to reveal more information about his finances and to find that he’s violated state laws that require elected officials to tell the public about all their investments. This past summer Scott reported that he had a net worth of nearly $149 million.

The lawsuit comes ahead of Scott’s expected campaign next year against incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, but Hinkle said he filed it to make sure that Florida’s 40-year-old financial disclosure requirements are followed.

“Open government is not partisan,” Hinkle said. “The determinations made in this case will apply to Democrats and Republicans. A Democratic governor, or legislator, should not be able to set up a revocable trust or family partnership and hide their assets. ”

John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, called the lawsuit a “frivolous publicity stunt” and noted the state’s ethics commission had previously dismissed complaints regarding Scott’s financial disclosures.

Scott, who is a multimillionaire and does not accept a salary, first built his fortune as the head of the hospital giant Columbia/HCA. He was forced out of the job amid a federal investigation into fraud. Although Scott was never charged with any wrongdoing the company paid a then-record $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud.

During his first run in 2010, Scott 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 in an effort to avoid possible conflicts. The trust is managed by a company that includes a longtime business associate of Scott.

Back in 2014, George Sheldon, a Democrat running for attorney general, filed a lawsuit that alleged Scott may have underreported his actual wealth by as much as $200 million. The lawsuit was eventually tossed out by a judge who said it needed to be considered by the Florida’s ethics commission. Hinkle, who had represented Sheldon, independently filed complaints with the ethics commission, but that panel concluded Scott was following the law. Hinkle has now gone back to a Leon County circuit court, seeking to get a judge to weigh in on whether the governor is following the law.

During his re-election three years ago, Scott briefly dissolved his blind trust and released joint tax returns with his wife that gave a much broader picture of his finances. The tax returns showed that Scott’s family earns millions more than the governor reported he earned individually.

Hinkle’s lawsuit contends that Scott has control over a family trust with his wife Ann and has failed to disclose all the assets in it. The lawsuit also alleges that Securities and Exchange Commission records show that Scott approved the sales of stock included in the family trust. The lawsuit also maintains that Scott retains control over some of his assets despite contending they are in a blind trust.

Tupps maintain the governor does not control the trust.

“The governor has no knowledge of anything that is bought, sold or changed in the trust,” Tupps said. “In both 2011 and 2014, the governor disclosed everything in the blind trust, then re-established the blind trust and placed it in the control of an independent trustee.”