Politics

Gov. Rick Scott releases 2013 tax returns; questions remain

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks during a televised debate with former Florida Governor and Democratic candidate Charlie Crist at Broward College on October 15, 2014 in Davie.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks during a televised debate with former Florida Governor and Democratic candidate Charlie Crist at Broward College on October 15, 2014 in Davie. Getty Images

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday released his 2013 tax returns “in the interest of full transparency” with just weeks to go before the election.

Scott, a multimillionaire who files his annual return jointly with his wife Ann, reported that he and his wife had an adjusted gross income of $8.2 million and paid $2 million in taxes. They filed their returns Wednesday, the final day allowed by the IRS for taxpayers who sought the six-month extension.

The release of Scott’s tax return, however, left unresolved many questions that have emerged about the accuracy and completeness of his financial disclosures since he filed his 2013 state financial disclosure reports as required to run for re-election.

The governor reported a net worth of $132.7 million, and put many of his assets in a blind trust managed by his longtime investment advisor, Alan Bazaar. The goal of the blind trust, the governor said, was to shield him from any conflict of interest when the companies in which he holds stock do business with the state.

Excluded from his reported assets, however, are investments held by his wife, or held by his family’s Scott Family Partnership Trust. The Herald/Times reported last week that documents filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission show that Scott has a history of dividing his assets into those and other multiple trust accounts and he remains the “beneficial owner” on some of the stock.

According to the reports filed with the state, Scott may only be disclosing the assets held in his newly formed personal blind trust, not the assets for which he is the beneficiary, raising questions about the completeness of his reports.

In his 2013 joint tax return, for example, Scott reported $8.2 million in adjusted gross income to the IRS while he disclosed only $3.2 million in income on his 2013 state financial disclosure form.

Attorney General candidate George Sheldon filed a lawsuit last week alleging that Scott is “under-reporting his financial assets” by more than $200  million, in violation of the state constitution. Sheldon claimed that the governor moves assets between multiple trust accounts and partnerships and the complicated arrangement enables him “to hide some of his assets and financial interests from public view.”

The Florida Constitution requires state elected officials to annually make a “full and public disclosure of financial interests [via] a sworn statement showing net worth and identifying each asset and liability in excess of $1,000.”

Scott’s 2013 return also includes less detail than what Scott released on his 2012 return. For example, in 2012, Scott included a list of assets held by the Frances Ann Scott Revocable Trust, the account established by the governor to hold his wife’s assets.

Scott’s staff has said the governor is not a trustee of Ann Scott’s trust, but documents show that several companies list Scott as the “beneficial” owner of the stock held by the trust, and the law allows him to retain the power to revoke the ownership of the assets and shift them to other accounts at any time.

Scott campaign manager Melissa Sellers defended the governor’s reports, saying he is “in full compliance with both federal and state reporting requirements, which are different.”

Meanwhile, Scott repeated his call for his Democratic rival Charlie Crist to release the returns of his wife, Carole Crist, who filed separately. Crist has released his tax returns for the last four years but has refused to make his wife’s returns available.

In June, Scott released his income tax returns for 2010, 2011 and 2012, but said he was receiving an extension on his 2013 forms and they were still being prepared.

Crist’s returns show he reported an adjusted gross income of $541,000 in 2013 and paid $197,000 in taxes. Crist earned wages of $295,000 at the Tampa office of the mega law firm, Morgan & Morgan, received $46,000 in state pensions payments and $358,000 from work as a consultant and author of his autobiography.

Scott, by contrast, has refrained from taking a state salary and lists no wages. His $6.4 million in taxable income is mostly from a long list of investments.

Scott’s campaign spokesman Greg Blair said Thursday that the governor’s tax advisors had completed his income taxes and filed them on the last day eligible, Oct. 15.

The governor’s return indicates that he and his wife saw net losses for at least two investments that reports show are jointly held by the governor’s blind trust as well as his wife’s trust — Wireless Telecom and MeetMe. The governor is listed in federal forms as the “beneficial owner.”

The governor and his wife reported to the IRS that they lost $2,903 for their $3.9 million investment in Wireless Telecom, a company that makes microwave-based products for the wireless industry, but that does not explain why the governor appears to be under-reporting the stock he owns in that company by $3 million.

The Scotts also report a loss of $121,231 in MeetMe, an Internet-based company. Federal reports show the governor holds $4.5 million of the stock, but he reported on his Florida disclosure form only $428,752 in taxable interest.

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