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“Bought And Paid For With A Texas Hunting Trip”: How ‘I Can’t Be Bought’ Rick Scott Overcame His ‘Disgust’

Back when he first ran for governor of Florida as a self-styled outsider, Rick Scott lambasted his opponent in the Republican primary for taking campaign money from U.S. Sugar, one of the worst corporate polluters of the Everglades.

Scott indignantly squeaked that Bill McCollum had been “bought and paid for” by U.S. Sugar. He said the company’s support of McCollum was “disgusting.”

“I can’t be bought,” Scott declared.

Seriously, that’s what the man said. Stop gagging and read on.

Four years later, the governor’s re-election campaign is hungrily raking in money from U.S. Sugar, more than $534,000 so far.

Exactly when Scott overcame his disgust isn’t clear, but in February 2013 he and undisclosed others jetted to the King Ranch in Texas for a hog- and deer-hunting junket on U.S. Sugar’s 30,000-acre lease.

Apparently this has become a secret tribal rite for some top Florida Republicans. Exposed last week by reporters Craig Pittman and Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times, the politicians ran like jackrabbits for the hills.

All questions were redirected to the state Republican Party, which couldn’t get its story straight. “Fundraising” wound up as the official explanation for the free pig-shooting sorties.

Scott refused to field questions about the King Ranch shindig. A spokesman said the governor covered his own air flight and hunting license.

Days later, a bit more information: Scott shot a buck deer on the trip, his flack said, and paid the taxidermist out of his own pocket. What a guy!

A month after his secret safari, the governor appointed an executive of King Ranch’s Florida agricultural holdings to the board of the South Florida Water Management District, the agency supposedly supervising the Everglades cleanup.

The inner circle, you see, goes unbroken.

Florida Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam was so mortified to be asked about his King Ranch excursions that he slithered behind a door that was then shut in a reporter’s face. Slick move. Putnam is the same social butterfly who once criticized the state law forbidding elected officeholders from accepting gifts like free trips, booze and meals. Putnam lamented that the ban was “a disincentive for fellowship.”

Thwarting the statutory gift ban has been accomplished by letting the political parties operate as money launderers for special interests. U.S. Sugar, for example, gives tons of cash to the Republican Party of Florida, which then spreads it around to Scott, Putnam and other candidates for purported political expenses.

The King Ranch, which has its own sugar and cattle holdings in Florida, has also hosted GOP House Appropriations Chair Seth McKeel and Dean Cannon when he was House Speaker.

The current House Speaker, Will Weatherford, and the incoming speaker, Steve Crisafulli, have both received Texas hunting licenses, although they won’t say if they’ve been to the King spread.

Florida has an abundance of deer and wild hogs, but an out-of-state safari offers the appeal of seclusion and anonymity. Interestingly, no Republican senators or Democratic leaders appear to have participated in the King Ranch flyouts. Former Gov. Charlie Crist, Scott’s likely opponent in November, has taken contributions from Big Sugar, but said he’s never been to the ranch.

Buying off politicians with hunting and fishing trips is an old tradition in Tallahassee, interrupted by the occasional embarrassing headline followed by flaccid stabs at reform.

Nobody believes the absurd GOP party line saying that the King Ranch hunting jaunts are “fundraisers.” They’re just free (or heavily discounted) vacations.

You really can’t blame Big Sugar or its lobbyists. They know who and what they’re dealing with; the only issue is the price.

The company has given more than $2.2 million to Republican candidates in the 2014 election cycle, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t get its money’s worth.

Taxpayers, not the sugar tycoons, remain stuck with most of the cost of cleaning up the Everglades. Every time someone tries to make the polluters pay a larger share, the idea gets snuffed in Tallahassee.

Meanwhile the politicians who could make it happen are partying in Texas with the polluters — shootin’ at critters, smokin’ cigars, sippin’ bourbon around the fire. Hell, maybe there’s even a steam bath.

These are the people controlling the fate of the Everglades. They’ve been bought and paid for, just like Rick Scott said four years ago. Now he’s one of them. His staff won’t say why he changed his mind about taking Big Sugar’s money. It also won’t say where he put the stuffed head of that buck he killed at the King Ranch.

The bathroom wall would be a fitting place, hanging right over the toilet where he flushed his integrity.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist, The Miami Herald; Published in The National Memo, August 5, 2014

 

August 6, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Florida, Rick Scott | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Setting The Bar For Sleazoid Antics”: Florida Legislature Approves Ethics Reform — No Joke!

Promise not to laugh?

An ethics bill was passed last week in Tallahassee.

It’s no joke. The Florida Legislature unanimously approved a law designed to clean up its own sketchy act, and that of elected officials all over the state.

Gov. Rick Scott says he’s “reviewing” the bill. To veto it would be an act of profound cluelessness, but remember who we’re talking about.

The ethics legislation is significant because the concept of enforcing ethical behavior is so foreign to Florida politics. Decades of well-publicized misdeeds and flagrant conflicts of interest have failed to make a moral dent.

A few years ago, lawmakers went through the motions of establishing something called a Commission on Ethics. Most Floridians were unaware of its existence, for good reason. It was a total sham.

The panel could place monetary fines on elected officials for ethical violations, but it wasn’t empowered to collect those fines, which on paper have surpassed $1 million over the last 10 years. Nobody had to pay, so nobody took the commission seriously.

This year things changed. Senate president Don Gaetz announced that ethics reform was a top priority. His bill flew through the Senate on the very first day of the Legislative session.

The House sent it back, after some tweaking by Speaker Will Weatherford, and the new version was adopted without a dissenting vote by the full Legislature.

If Scott signs the bill into law, the Commission on Ethics will actually be able to collect the fines it imposes on wayward officeholders — even garnish their wages, if necessary.

Among other provisions, lawmakers would be banned from voting on any bills that might enhance their own personal finances. While in office, they wouldn’t be allowed to accept any government job. Once out of office, they’d be prohibited from lobbying state agencies for two years.

Such restrictions seem rather basic, even tame, until you consider that we’re basically starting from scratch. In Florida, the bar for sleazoid antics has been set very high.

The impetus for reform isn’t mysterious. As Republicans, Gaetz and Weatherford have seen their party stained by scandals.

Gaetz is from Okaloosa County, home to former House Speaker Ray Sansom. In 2010 Sansom resigned from the Legislature because of ethics complaints and an ongoing corruption probe.

Just two months ago, former GOP chairman Jim Greer pleaded guilty to five felonies, including grand theft and money laundering, in a case involving extravagant misuse of campaign funds and the party’s American Express cards.

Greer’s plea avoided an embarrassing trial that would have sent top Republican politicians to the witness stand. Having dodged that bullet, party leaders then had to watch their lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, abruptly resign after being linked to an Internet gambling cafe operation.

That company, Allied Veterans of the World, allegedly pocketed millions of dollars in charity funds that were supposed to be earmarked to help military veterans. It also donated gobs of money to the election campaigns of many Florida legislators, Republicans and Democrats.

Such headlines tend to produce a climate of fresh ethical awareness.

An interesting component of the new bill is the two-year ban on lobbying after leaving office. Traditionally, politicians who don’t want regular jobs become lobbyists when they return to private life.

House Speaker Weatherford’s predecessor, Dean Cannon, incorporated his own lobby firm a month before exiting the Legislature, and he hit the ground running. All perfectly legal, at the time.

Lots of other ex-House speakers and retired Senate bigshots are also lobbyists, schmoozing former colleagues on behalf of high-paying corporate and municipal clients. This revolving door ratifies the average voter’s cynical view of state government as a game fixed by insiders.

Although two years isn’t very long to wait between serving in public office and privately cashing in, any wait is better than what we’ve got now.

Ethics reform will be only as good as its enforcement, and history tells us not to have high hopes. This legislation is not without wiggle room and loopholes, including a provision for blind trusts that would allow officeholders to conceal the details of their wealth.

However, the bill at least puts some strong words on paper, and opens a pathway for prosecutors.

To help clarify the details and reduce the chances for future indictment, every elected official would be required to take annual ethics training.

You’re laughing again, right?

Sure, there’s something absurd about having to train a politician to be ethical. But, hey, if they can teach a cat to play the piano….

 

By: Carl Hiaason, The National Memo, April 30, 2013

May 1, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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