Rick Scott has spent as much as $3.5 million on TV ads excoriating Charlie Crist over a former donor convicted in a Ponzi scheme.
But Scott doesn't want to talk about it.
“I’m not a pundit,” Scott said last week when asked about his Scott Rothstein-related ads.
“You guys write about this stuff,” Scott said. “You can write about it.”
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Reporters are already used to Scott being the most-scripted and least-forthcoming statewide candidate in years. On his campaign bus last week, Scott wanted to talk about tax cuts.
But Scott won’t even go off-message to go on-message about Rothstein.
And that’s what makes Scott’s non-answer so peculiar, the relative silence so deafening. It’s his message. It’s not about other issues he shies away from: gay marriage, the minimum wage, his office’s apparent flouting of public-records laws or the record fraud fine paid by his former hospital company.
Rothstein is a major hallmark of Scott’s reelection. It’s one of his most-advertised talking points. The amount of money Scott has spent on this topic is about 40 percent of all pro-Crist ads run by Democrats.
In politics, as in business, money talks. You put your money where your mouth is. Conservatives closely equate free speech and campaign spending for a reason.
“The ads speak for themselves. The ads speak for themselves,” Scott repeated. “Call Melissa [Sellers]. She’s the campaign manager.”
Scott’s campaign wants people to know that Rothstein, a onetime major Crist donor, now claims the then-governor traded judicial appointments for campaign contributions. Crist has denied the claim for four years.
No criminal investigation is ongoing, a sign that the incarcerated con man’s claims are tough to verify at best.
PolitiFact found a claim in Scott’s first Rothstein ad “half-true” — that Rothstein bragged about the “quid pro quo” cash-for-judges scheme.
A close examination of Rothstein’s time on the Judicial Nominating Commission in Broward County shows Rothstein had a spotty attendance record. Other JNC members say Rothstein had no outsize or special influence in nominating judges for Crist’s consideration.
And though some Rothstein contributions to the Republican Party of Florida (when Crist was a GOP governor) coincided with at least one judicial appointment, no significant additional evidence showing any crime has come to light in the four years since the Miami Herald and others covered Rothstein’s case and claims.
Scott’s silent about all these details, too. That’s also understandable.
Both of Scott’s Rothstein spots were launched by the Republican Party of Florida without comment. And the ads aren’t on RPOF’s YouTube page. No one will say why.
Crist’s response was worse than silence, though. His campaign issued its own ad that claimed Scott has now “teamed up” with Rothstein to smear Crist. PolitiFact rightly called that Crist statement false.
In the second Rothstein spot from RPOF, titled “Swindled,” an unidentified man speaks into the camera and says he’s a victim of Rothstein. He says “nobody was closer to Rothstein than Charlie Crist.”
There’s no evidence of that, except perhaps for the word of the convicted schemer or the unidentified narrator.
Crist was certainly close to Rothstein. After offering a mammoth contribution to the RPOF, Rothstein even blew out Crist’s birthday-cake candles at an event at The Breakers Palm Beach, one of Florida’s finest hotels.
That gauche candle-blowing photo is featured in the ad.
“Rothstein bragged that he gave Charlie Crist money so that he could pick judges. Of course Charlie took the money,” the narrator says. “I got swindled by both Rothstein and Charlie.”
There’s no evidence to support this, either.
“If Charlie Crist will sell judgeships, everything is for sale,” the man concludes. Sure. “If.”
And “if” the ad weren’t so misleading, maybe Scott would be more inclined to talk about it.
Even his lawyer won’t talk about him much. The lawyer isn’t exactly neutral: Scott donor Bill Scherer, who was hired by Scott’s office recently to press a lawsuit over a Crist-era government economic development deal gone bad called “Digital Domain.”
Scherer was frozen out as a top GOP legal power-broker in Broward when Crist was governor and palling around with Rothstein, which the Sun Sentinel noted two years ago in reporting the $50 million in fees that Scherer’s firm stood to reap in a Rothstein-related settlement with banks.
Revenge is sweet.
Asked whether the man in the Rothstein ad is a client, Scherer gave a one-word affirmation.
Is he a Rothstein victim? “Yes,” Scherer said.
Can we talk to him? “No.”
Is there anything that would help us shed more light on his case? “Probably not,” Scherer said.
But compared to Scott, this is a wealth of explanation.