Sheldon Sues Scott Over Financial Disclosure

By  //  October 8, 2014

George Sheldon
George Sheldon

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — Democratic attorney-general candidate George Sheldon filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Gov. Rick Scott for allegedly under-reporting personal financial interests.

Scott’s campaign called the lawsuit a campaign distraction orchestrated by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and noted that a court ruled this summer in favor of Scott’s use of a blind trust to maintain his finances.

The blind trust case is being appealed.

Sheldon, a former state lawmaker who trails in fundraising and in polling to Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi, filed the lawsuit in Leon County circuit court. The suit claims Scott has failed to adhere to financial-disclosure requirements in the state’s Sunshine Amendment by failing to list all his assets.

“Gov. Scott can end this case whenever he wants to by making a full and honest accounting of his interests,” Sheldon said.

Sheldon added that Bondi has failed to enforce the Sunshine Amendment.

Bondi’s office deferred comment to her campaign, which did not immediately respond Wednesday.

Gov. Rick Scott
Gov. Rick Scott

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a report by the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times that information provided by Scott on his state-required financial-disclosure forms differed from what he has submitted to the IRS and to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“I don’t know why he’s done this,” Sheldon said. “To the people of Florida, whether you’re worth $100 million or $300 million, as a taxpayer I don’t even understand those numbers, and most of the people of Florida don’t understand those numbers, but that’s not what’s relevant. The question is what is he hiding?”

Scott spokesman Greg Blair pointed to Scott’s use of the blind trust that manages his finances and described the lawsuit as campaign “mudslinging.” As part of his financial disclosure this year, Scott ended a blind trust he formed in 2011 and publicly listed his investments. After the disclosure documents were filed, Scott placed his investments into a new blind trust.

“Governor Scott opened the blind trust he formed in 2011 for the sole purpose of providing transparency and publicly listing his assets on his financial disclosure in June,” Blair said in a prepared statement. “This blind trust was established to protect the people of Florida from having an elected official make decisions in his or her own self-interest.”

In July, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper cleared the way for Scott, who reported a net worth of $132.7 million as of the end of last year, to continue using the blind trust to shield his assets from the public and himself. 

Cooper ruled that blind trusts are constitutional because a public official with such a trust is not supposed to know any more than voters about what is in the account. 

Sheldon said the case is about what hasn’t been exposed regarding how Scott’s net worth has changed over the years. The net worth was reported to the state as $83 million at the end of 2012, before making the jump to $132.7 million at the end of 2013.

The lawsuit contends that Scott’s financial-disclosure forms, joint tax returns with First Lady Ann Scott and SEC documents indicate the governor’s trusts and partnerships hold assets or have generated income worth at least $340 million since 2010.

On Tuesday, Scott’s campaign disputed the Herald and Times report, saying in a release that the governor has gone “above and beyond what the law requires” regarding state filing requirements and repeatedly noting “the governor is in full compliance with federal and state reporting requirements.”

On Monday, during a debate among the attorney-general candidates, Sheldon pointed to the newspaper report and said he’d have the office look “at the discrepancy with Gov. Scott.”

Pam Bondi
Pam Bondi

His comment drew a quick rebuke from Bondi.

“To imply that our governor is corrupt, that is not appropriate for any candidate to say that, nor an attorney general to say that, based on a newspaper article,” she retorted.