Florida Politics

Scott reports he’s worth at least $255 million. His wife holds most of family fortune

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, with his wife, Ann, beside him, announces his bid to run for the U.S. Senate on April 9, 2018.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, with his wife, Ann, beside him, announces his bid to run for the U.S. Senate on April 9, 2018. AP

Gov. Rick Scott released his federally required financial-disclosure report on Friday, revealing for the first time that he’s worth at least $255 million, with more than $173 million in assets held by his wife, outside of the blind trust that was intended to remove him from conflicts of interest.

The disclosure is the first time the millionaire Republican, who is running for U.S. Senate, has disclosed his wife’s investments. Unlike Florida law, which does not require Scott to disclose the assets of his spouse, he must disclose all his family’s assets to run for Congress.

Under the broad disclosure filed late Friday, Scott reported assets of at least $82 million, including $76 million in a newly created blind trust, which last year was worth $215 million.

Unlike Florida law, which requires specific amounts listed for each asset, the federal law allows for a high and low range. Scott’s report shows the total value of his assets is between $255 million and $510 million, although it is impossible to know how much the governor and his wife are worth and how much they own in each of their investments.

Scott’s campaign said that after reporting his assets the governor returned the investments held in his name to a new blind trust, which is managed by a third party — a company that includes the governor’s former personal adviser, Alan L. Bazaar. The goal was to avoid “even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” the campaign said.

The campaign would not say whether Scott, if elected, would continue the blind trust which, under federal law, may not be managed by someone with a prior financial relationship to the governor, unlike Bazaar, and must be approved by the Senate Ethics Committee.

However, Scott’s use of a blind trust as governor is under legal assault in Florida courts. Tallahassee attorney Don Hinkle is suing him for violating state financial-disclosure laws by transferring much of his wealth into his wife’s accounts, which are not disclosed to the public and can be influenced by the governor.

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In releasing his massive, 125-page, financial-disclosure statement, Scott disclosed that his wife holds the majority of the family’s assets. “Spouse” is listed as owner of every asset on 84 pages of the report.

Ann Scott’s holdings are vast and diverse, with most of them including a disclaimer that they are “over $1,000,000 and held independently by spouse or dependent child,” so they could be worth vastly more than reported.

The report also shows that the governor’s blind trust is down from where it was in 2017, when he reported that it had ballooned in value from $130 million to $215 million.

That same year, a company controlled by Scott and his wife received at least $550 million in revenues from a single transaction — the sale of Continental Structural Plastics, a Michigan-based company that supplies lightweight plastic components to the automotive industry. The company was sold for $825 million on Jan. 3, 2017 to a Japanese conglomerate.

The governor also reported that his net worth in 2017 was $232 million, and his investment income from the trust rocketed from $4.3 million in 2016 to $120 million in 2017.

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Friday’s disclosure could make Scott’s vast wealth a bigger political issue as he uses some of his personal wealth to try to unseat three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

The couple holds investments in individual companies, as well as municipal bonds held by cities, counties, and school districts across the country. As a senator, Scott would regularly vote on matters affecting firms in which he and his wife have an investment interest, such as school districts, hospitals, public-housing authorities, and transportation firms.

He disclosed Friday that he owns as much as $500,000 in stock in NextEra Energy Partners, which is a stand-alone company created by NextEra Energy. NextEra Energy is the parent company of Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest investor-owned utility.

Questions have dogged the governor about how much influence he has had in his wife’s financial accounts. When Scott ran for re-election in 2014, he briefly dissolved his first trust and released information about the individual holdings in it. He also released his tax returns for 2013.

The tax returns showed that the Scott family earned millions more than the governor reported individually on his financial-disclosure form and it raised questions about whether Scott might have control over assets held by his wife.

An investigation by the Herald/Times into those investments found that filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicated that the governor had substantially larger holdings in several companies than what he reported to the state. A lawsuit was filed by George Sheldon, a 2014 Democratic candidate for attorney general, but a court ruled that the governor could not be compelled to disclose more information.

Sensitive to those same concerns again this time, Scott’s campaign released a series of questions and answers that appeared designed to downplay the political implications of his immense net worth, which appears much higher than in his state financial-disclosure filings.

“Governor Scott grew up in a family that struggled financially,” the campaign statement said, noting that Scott sold the state airplane as governor, uses his own private plane, and refuses to accept a salary.

The Q&A asked, “Why are the First Lady’s investments just now being disclosed?” The answer provided by Scott’s campaign was: “The full investments are being released to comply with all rules and requirements for running for federal office.”

The Scott Q&A also said a majority of the Democratic candidates to succeed him as governor said they would have blind trusts, which some candidates immediately criticized.

“Gov. Scott’s blind trust set-up doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Zach Learner, the campaign manager for candidate Chris King. “Floridians deserve a governor who complies with the spirit of what a blind trust is meant to do. Florida’s blind-trust law lacks many of the common-sense safeguards included in federal blind-trust rules.”

King has said he will establish a blind trust for himself and his wife. He said it will exceed state requirements and “undergo a comprehensive review to remove all potential conflicts of interest.”

Based on a preliminary review of Scott’s statement, he appears to have sold many of his investments in the oil, gas, and energy sectors, and now has a portfolio stocked with government securities and general-obligation and revenue bonds.

Scott holds those investments in a number of states run by Democratic governors, including states where he has mounted publicity-heavy campaigns to persuade companies to move to Florida.

Scott led job-poaching visits to California, Connecticut, and New York, three states where he pointedly criticized Democratic governors for high taxes.

Scott, 65, is the wealthiest governor in Florida history. Raised in blue-collar Bloomington, Illinois, he found an entrepreneurial spirit early in life and purchased two small doughnut shops — a staple of his biography.

With his savings of $125,000, he bought a pair of struggling Texas hospitals that became the Columbia/HCA Hospital Corp., the nation’s largest chain of for-profit hospitals.

Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.

This story was updated to correct a reference to NextEra Energy Partners, which is not the parent company of Florida Power & Light. NextEra Energy Partners is a stand-alone company created by NextEra Energy. NextEra Energy is the parent company of FPL.

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