[UPDATE] Ethics Commission Says No Conflict in Scott's Investments

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Gov. Rick Scott’s current investments do not present a conflict of interest, and the state’s chief executive can move forward with plans to set up a blind trust to avoid conflicts in the future, the state Ethics Commission ruled.

The advisory opinion, approved by the panel with no debate, could back up Scott’s contention that he is trying to follow the rules for elected officials as he manages the personal wealth that helped propel him to the Governor’s Mansion.

But it does not address his attempts to unwind his controversial past controlling interest in Solantic, and it seemed to do little to immediately quiet critics who have hounded the governor on questions about his financial position.

Speaking with reporters after a visit to Bing Energy in Tallahassee, Scott said he welcomed the opinion.

“I’m trying to make sure I do everything the right way in organizing all of my business investments that way,” Scott said. “I’m glad they did. I believe I was doing the right thing, but it’s nice when they do that.”

Scott asked the commission for the opinion shortly after winning the fall elections, spokesman Brian Burgess said. It concerns five instances where Scott owns stock in either a company with at least one Florida-based subsidiary or has an interest in an investment fund that owns a company based in the state.

The investments include Energy Transfer Equity, L.P.; Enterprise Products Partners, L.P.; Inergy, L.P.; Republican Services, Inc.; and Vestar Capital Partners.

The commission’s opinion said those investments do not present Scott with a conflict of interest under state law and, because the investments being placed in the trust are legitimate to begin with, a blind trust would shield Scott from violating the ethics laws even if a trustee decided to invest some of the governor’s money in companies that are regulated by or do business with the state.

“In this respect, we agree with your observation that an investment in a Florida-related company by an investment adviser acting in a discretionary capacity, with neither foreknowledge or control of that decision by the Governor, cannot be said to impede the faithful discharge of the Governor’s public duties,” says the opinion, written by commission Executive Director Philip Claypool.

Earlier rulings by the Ethics Commission bar state officials from plowing known investments that would normally present a conflict of interest into a blind trust in an effort to dance around the ethics law.

Democrats said that the opinion doesn’t clear up the questions about Scott’s past stake in Solantic, which he transferred to his wife and is now working to sell, or what investments Scott or his wife hold that he hasn’t divulged.

“Unless Rick Scott is going to fully disclose all of his assets ... then no questions are answered by this action,” Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff said.

Scott was not shy about leveraging assets beyond his own wealth to win the GOP nomination or the general election in November. First Lady Ann Scott’s trust, for example, contributed $12.8 million to Let’s Get to Work, a group Scott set up to fund ads in the primary and general election campaign.

And critics have continued to protest Scott’s role in Solantic. Scott said he was close to completing a sale of Solantic, perhaps within the next month.

“We’re just waiting for regulatory approvals,” Scott said.

Tallahassee, Florida - 5-13 -

The state Ethics Commission ruled Friday that Gov. Rick Scott doesn't face a conflict of interest based on his current investments or his plan to put his assets in a blind trust. The advisory opinion approved by the panel was in response to a request by Scott's staff that did not include questions about his controlling interest in Solantic Corporation, which Scott is in the process of selling. "Under the circumstances presented, no prohibited conflict of interest exists where the governor has invested in companies and investment funds that indirectly own Florida-based or Florida-regulated entities," the opinion says. Spokesman Brian Burgess said Scott asked for the opinion shortly after being elected. "Obviously, we're pleased we can finally put this behind us," Burgess said. But Democrats view the ruling as far too narrow, given the exclusion of Solantic and the fact that the opinion apparently didn't consider Scott's wife's trust. "Unless Rick Scott is going to fully disclose all of his assets ... then no questions are answered by this action," Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff said.

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