As Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott weighs a potential challenge to Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018, he will have to stamp out a new lawsuit accusing him of breaking state laws that require him to release his financial holdings.
Don Hinkle, a Tallahassee lawyer and top fundraiser for Barack Obama, alleged in court that Scott has hidden his personal finances in a blind trust and family trust. Scott last reported his net worth to be $149 million in the summer.
GOP operatives have speculated for some time that Scott, who is term-limited, could run to unseat Nelson, one of Roll Call's “10 Most Vulnerable” senators in 2018.
Scott spokesman John Tupps dismissed the lawsuit as “a frivolous publicity stunt ” to The Associated Press. Tupps also pointed out the Florida ethics committee’s previous dismissal of complaints lodged against Scott's disclosure documents.
The lawsuit’s purpose is to uphold the Sunshine State’s 40-year-old financial disclosure law — not to gain a political advantage for Democrats, Hinkle said.
“Open government is not partisan,” Hinkle the AP. “The determinations made in this case will apply to Democrats and Republicans. A Democratic governor, or legislator, should not be able to set up a revocable trust or family partnership and hide their assets.”
Nelson is running for a fourth term in a state Donald Trump narrowly won in last year’s presidential election.
The National Republican Senate Committee has targeted Nelson’s seat for 2018. Scott would provide the GOP a highly recognizable candidate with deep pockets — he does not accept his governor’s salary — to bring Nelson down.
Nelson led Scott 37 percent to 36 percent in a mid-October survey of registered voters by the University of North Florida.
During his 2014 re-election campaign, Scott briefly opened his family trust and released joint tax returns with his wife, Ann. Those returns revealed his family earns millions more than he had reported he earned personally.
The trust has no bearing on the governor’s personal holdings disclosures because he “has no knowledge of anything that is bought, sold or changed in the trust,” Tupps said.
“In both 2011 and 2014,” he added, “the governor disclosed everything in the blind trust, then re-established the blind trust and placed it in the control of an independent trustee.”