TALLAHASSEE, Florida — The finances of Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a wealthy multimillionaire, are coming under renewed scrutiny just weeks before his bid for re-election.
George Sheldon, a Democrat running for attorney general, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday contending that Scott may have underreported his actual wealth by as much as $200 million. The lawsuit, which Scott's campaign derided as "mudslinging," asks a judge to declare that Scott is breaking the state's financial disclosure law.
Sheldon's lawsuit, handled by an attorney who is a top donor to former Gov. Charlie Crist, also calls on a judge to force him to "immediately and accurately" disclose all assets he controls or owns.
The lawsuit follows a Miami Herald report that Scott is listed in federal records as connected to trust accounts that aren't listed in financial disclosure documents he is required to file each year with the state.
"The people of Florida don't really care whether Gov. Scott is worth $3 million or $300 million," said Sheldon. "What they care about is being able to determine whether he has a personal financial stake in the decisions he makes as a public official."
During his first run in 2010, Scott released his tax returns and a lengthy list of business holdings. But 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. The trust is managed by a company that includes a long-time business associate of Scott.
Legislators last year passed a law that authorizes blind trusts but Scott this year briefly dissolved the trust and released information about his individual holdings. He also released his joint tax returns with wife, Ann Scott, that gave a much broader picture of Scott's finances. The tax returns showed that the Scott family earns millions more than the governor reported he earned individually.
Sheldon maintains that Scott is flouting the new law because filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission show that he had substantially larger holdings in several companies than what he reported to the state. The lawsuit contends there are trusts, separate from Scott's blind trust, that are investing in the same companies, and that the SEC forms list the multiple trusts as being connected to Scott.
During a campaign stop in Boca Raton, Scott contended that he has "disclosed all the assets."
He also criticized Crist, whose wife, Carole, has not released her tax returns. Carole Crist files a separate return; Scott files jointly with his wife.
"I've disclosed all the assets, and my tax returns, and my wife's tax returns," said Scott, who said he followed the lead of other governors like former Gov. Jeb Bush. "Charlie Crist? Oh no, he doesn't want to do that. He won't disclose he and his wife's tax returns. So this just Charlie Crist. He's a slick politician. He's a smooth talker. All he can do is sling mud."
In a response to the initial Herald article, the Scott campaign insisted that Scott has no control over the additional trust accounts even though SEC documents list him as the "beneficial owner" of stocks linked to several different trust accounts.
This isn't the first lawsuit involving Scott's trust. This summer, a lawsuit was filed challenging the new law that allows elected officials to place their assets in a blind trust instead of reporting each investment publicly. But Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled in late July that the law is reasonable. The decision has been appealed.
Associated Press reporter Tony Winton in Boca Raton contributed to this report.
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