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“A Man Of Mystery”: If You Don’t Ask, Rick Scott Won’t Tell

Rick Scott is our own man of mystery, Austin Powers without the hair mop and dance moves.

No Florida governor has ever operated with such jet-setting stealth, concealing so many details of his daily travels and contacts. He says he’s out working nonstop for the citizens of his adopted state, yet his official schedule is full of more gaps than the Nixon transcripts.

Occasionally, Floridians catch an intriguing glimpse of Scott’s shadow life. His secret hunting trip to a Texas game ranch courtesy of U.S. Sugar had been kept under wraps for more than a year before it was sniffed out by reporters from the Tampa Bay Times.

The governor still refuses to divulge who went with him, or whom he met. One known fact is that U.S. Sugar, an epic polluter of the Everglades, has donated more than $534,000 to Scott’s reelection campaign so far.

His recent predecessors regularly made public their detailed travel and work records, including political fundraising trips. Up until Scott took office, it was generally accepted that Floridians have a right to know where their governor is going, and why.

Whenever Lawton Chiles took a private plane to a campaign stop, his office released not only the names but also the phone numbers of other passengers on the aircraft. Both Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist, who’s running against Scott this year, often provided lists of who attended private meetings with them, and what subjects were discussed.

Since his arrival in Tallahassee, Scott has promised “transparency,” and on his first day signed an executive order restarting the Office of Open Government, which is supposed to help Floridians gain easier access to public records.

However, Scott’s concept of a public record is narrow, to put it kindly.

By using his own Cessna Citation instead of a state jet, he definitely saves the taxpayers money. He also conveniently shields himself from potentially embarrassing inquiries regarding his whereabouts.

The tail numbers of his plane have been removed from flight-tracking websites, so you can’t see where it’s heading or where it’s been. Scott and his staff won’t disclose even the most basic travel information — destination, times of departure and arrival — until days after the trip, if then.

Key details are typically blacked out, using a public-records exemption that was intended to shield “surveillance techniques” of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The FDLE provides security staff for the governor.

His secrecy obsession policy extends beyond his travel plans.

As part of his initial push for transparency, Scott launched Project Sunburst, which was supposed to makes available his state emails and those of his executive staff.

It would have been good for open government, if only Scott’s chief of staff (and then his successor) hadn’t ordered all employees to use private emails and cellphone texts when discussing sensitive matters.

The objective was to hide important policy-making from outside scrutiny, reducing Project Sunburst to a farce.

A suit by Tallahassee lawyer Steven Andrews has revealed that private emails were used by Scott’s top staff, and even his wife, to coordinate a $5 million project to re-manicure the entrance of the governor’s mansion and purchase nearby real estate for a “governor’s park.”

The planning was being done on state time, and the Republican-controlled Legislature obligingly allotted $2.5 million for the makeover.

For the rest of the funds, a “Governor’s Mansion Foundation” hit up major companies eager to stay in Scott’s good graces — including Florida Power and Light, Blue Cross Blue Shield and the GEO Group, which operates two state prisons.

“U.S. Sugar just came thru w check for $100k!!!” burbled the mansion curator to Scott’s deputy chief of staff, via private email.

A judge’s order was necessary before this interesting message and others were uncovered. It’s a matter of significant public interest when corporations that rely on state approval shower hundreds of thousands of dollars on a sitting governor’s pet project.

You think U.S. Sugar or FPL gives a rat’s azalea about the landscaping at the mansion? They gave the money for the same reason they write campaign checks — to purchase favor.

Scott won’t talk about this because he is, after all, a man of mystery.

Now you see him, now you don’t.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist, The Miami Herald; The Nationla Memo, September 2, 2014

 

 

September 3, 2014 Posted by | Florida, Republicans, Rick Scott | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

   

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