In Florida’s bareknuckle governor’s race, it’s as if the 2010 campaign season never ended.
The Florida Democratic Party on Thursday announced a digital media effort to highlight a sealed deposition that damaged Rick Scott on the campaign trail four years ago.
At the same time, the Republican Party of Florida took to Twitter and mockingly marked Charlie Crist’s birthday by featuring a photo of the Democrat blowing out birthday candles with convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein — a relationship that haunted the then-governor in his unsuccessful 2010 U.S. Senate bid.
The state GOP also filed elections complaints Thursday that accused Crist of using the recent tour promoting his book — which revolves around his 2010 race — to help circumvent campaign-finance laws. Earlier this week, a batch of election-year complaints against Crist and Scott were rejected as baseless.
The back-and-forth slugfest, which has led to $22 million in TV ads so far and a neck-and-neck race, promises only to intensify as each side tries to make the other guy look like a secretive crook.
Democrats said they’ll reinforce the narrative with the launch of a new anti-Scott website, releasethedeposition.com. A video, featured on the website, would play as commercials on YouTube.
“What is so damning that Rick Scott won’t release it, no matter what the price?” the Democrats’ party chairwoman, Allison Tant, said in a conference call with reporters about Scott’s deposition.
Scott, who refused to release the deposition in 2010 because it was a “private matter,” said he won’t change his mind.
“I'm not going to do anything else, release any more information. It just gives Charlie Crist more opportunity to mudsling,” Scott said after talking about high job growth and educational improvements on his watch.
Scott gave the testimony in a lawsuit just six days before first running for governor. Soon after, the document was sealed and the lawsuit was settled against Scott’s healthcare company, Solantic, which was accused by a doctor of unlawfully using his name in a regulatory matter.
The Democratic attack has a one-two-punch against Scott because it leads to mention of: his former healthcare company, Columbia/HCA, which had paid a record Medicare fraud; and how Scott once pleaded the Fifth Amendment 75 times (due to pending criminal investigations) in yet another deposition in a later healthcare lawsuit.
Scott’s refusal to release the Solantic deposition badly hurt him in the 2010 GOP Republican primary, where internal campaign tracking polls showed his lead over then-Attorney General Bill McCollum dropped precipitously in the wake of the controversy.
McCollum allies funded TV ads about the issue. They also paid two young men — one dressed in hospital scrubs called “Dr. Dave” and another one dressed in a black-and-white-striped jail outfit named “Inmate 2010” — to follow Scott around in an SUV wrapped with a grainy image of Scott’s face and the message “Rick Scott: Release the Deposition.”
A similar message — “RICK SCOTT, RELEASE YOUR DEPOSITION” — was trailed behind a biplane at a Jacksonville Jaguars game that Scott visited.
Scott won that race and went on to beat Democrat Alex Sink, who also put millions of dollars behind release-the-deposition TV ads. Scott barely won in what was then a Republican-red year. He received fewer votes than any of the other four Republicans on the statewide ballot.
Crist, however, fared even worse in 2010.
Chased from the GOP by Marco Rubio, Crist switched his party affiliation to independent and still lost his Senate bid. Among the troubles weighing on Crist was his Senate campaign’s support by top contributor Scott Rothstein, who later admitted to masterminding a Ponzi scheme out of his Fort Lauderdale law firm.
Rothstein in 2009 contributed $52,000 to the state GOP to sponsor a birthday party cake for Crist. The cake was festooned with candles, each bearing the name of major special interests doing business with the state that had paid $5,200 for the privilege of a mention.
Rothstein, tapped by Crist to sit on a judge-picking panel, had said he essentially bought judgeships from Crist, which Crist denies as the lies of a felon and serial deceiver.
“Thanks for the judgeships! When I get out of jail I'll buy you another birthday cake!” a mock Twitter message from a phony Rothstein account said. The Tweet, along with a snapshot of other sarcastic messages from a phony Fidel Castro account, was photographed and disseminated on Twitter by Juston Johnson, the state GOP’s executive director.
Meantime, Scott has tried to blunt the Democratic attacks against him for his secrecy by calling on Crist to release his wife’s tax filings. Crist won’t, saying they’re Carole Crist’s private business.
As governor, Scott refused to disclose his and his wife’s tax documents and individual details of all their investments. He reversed course this campaign season, but has yet to release his 2013 tax forms, which Crist has disclosed.
Tant refused to say whether Crist should disclose Mrs. Crist’s tax information.
“This is something you can ask Mr. Crist about,” she said.
Tant also denied that the Democrats’ newest push against Scott was an effort to anticipate a lawsuit, announced this week by the Scott administration, to recoup $20 million in lost tax-incentive money approved in 2009 when Crist was governor for a now-bankrupt firm known as Digital Domain Florida.
Crist allies, noting the suit is being pursued by Scott donor William R. Scherer, suspect it was filed this campaign season in an effort to embarrass Crist and put Crist under — drumroll — deposition.
Tampa Bay Times staff writer Keyonna Summers contributed to this report