The Florida Supreme Court was asked Wednesday to overturn a state law used by Gov. Rick Scott to place his multimillion dollars in assets in a blind trust rather than submit to full financial disclosure.
The lawsuit was filed by Jim Apthorp, a former chief of staff to late Gov. Reubin Askew, instrumental in developing the state’s “Sunshine Amendment,” which included financial disclosure requirements for elected officials. Attorney in the case is Talbot ‘Sandy’ D’Alemberte, a former Florida State University president.
Scott won approval from the state’s Commission on Ethics in 2011 to put his holdings in a blind trust, steered by money managers independent of the governor. The state Legislature two years later approved a measure allowing such blind trusts to be used as a form of state-required, annual financial disclosure for elected officials.
“The Sunshine Amendment requires that things be revealed; blind trusts require that things be concealed,” Apthorp’s petition to the court says. “It would be absurd to conclude that the latter is an adequate substitute for the former.”
Scott has $72 million in investments managed in the blind trust by Hollow Brook Wealth Management, a New York investment advisor. Democrat Alex Sink also kept her investments in a blind trust during her term as Chief Financial Officer and when she ran against Scott for governor in 2010.
Among the organizations supporting the lawsuit are the media-backed First Amendment Foundation and the Florida Press Association.
While the state’s Commission on Ethics has issued two opinions in recent years defending blind trusts and lawmakers who advanced the 2013 legislation termed it a good government move, critics say it can lead to less information being made available to the public.
For example, while state law requires annual “full and public disclosure of financial interests” assets, liabilities or income sources of more than $1,000, blind trusts used by Florida politicians occasionally report such holdings in lump-sum amounts.
“The meaning of the Sunshine Amendment is clear: Officials and candidates must disclose their finances in full,” Apthorp said.