Florida, otherwise known as the Crazy State, has a governor who was elected despite having been at the helm of a company that pleaded guilty to the biggest Medicare fraud in history. Under the
plea bargain settlement, Columbia-HCA agreed to pay $840 million in criminal and civil penalties.
Rick Scott said when he first ran for the governorship that his net worth was $218 million. At the time a blind trust statute apparently written specificaly to deal with hiding Scott's ill-gotten gains became law, he stated his end-of-2012 net worth was $84 million.
Like so many so-called fiscal conservatives, Scott made his millions stuffing his pockets with taxpayer cash. Now, no longer running a company that can bilk the government, unable to find a way to profit off of a federal expansion of Medicaid as a result of the Affordable Care Act, he is running seven points behind former governor Charlie Crist.
So what does Rick Scott do? Well, you can't fault the man's initiative in finding new ways to redirect taxpayer money into his own pockets. On Thursday, Scott did a photo-op at 21st Century Oncology, a cancer treatment center in Fort Myers, promoting an increase of $30 million in the state's funding for cancer research and treatment over last year's $50 million:
The $60 million wouldn’t help companies such as 21st Century Oncology, which operates 179 treatment centers in 16 states and six foreign countries, but the $20 million in research grants could benefit smaller organizations not affiliated with universities.
"There’s something in this for us, and it’s not exactly the same as what’s in it for the University of Florida and other centers," said 21st Century Oncology Chief Medical Officer Constantine Mantz. "But to his credit, (Scott) has thought about some of the little guys in the state."
Mantz said most funding for its roughly 20-person research staff comes from drug companies and federal grants. He expects the company to "get in line" with research proposals, competing with others for a slice of the $20 million.
"We really have not had any ability to access state funds for any of our research activities, and so this is important for us," Mantz said.
But facilities like 21st Century Oncology will now, thanks to the sudden beneficence of Florida Governor Rick Scott, currently fighting for his political life in Florida.
Upon seeing this tremendously exciting development in cancer research in the Sunshine State, my cynical nose smelled a rat. Of course there was the obvious tactic of throwing around money in an election year, but the appearance not at a research hospital or university, but at a smallish for-profit health care facility, given Scott's history, made my spidey-sense go all a-tingle. What financial interest did Rick Scott have in this particular company?
And lo and behold, a two-minute Google search revealed this reprint from the Palm Beach Post from May 14, 2011:
On Friday, the ethics commission without comment accepted Executive Director Philip Claypool's recommended opinion, which confirmed that Scott would likely be shielded from potential violations of state ethics laws by creating the trust.Now a limited partnership in the owner of the company at which this photo-op took place is not the same as being CEO of two major healthcare companies. But you have to almost admire Rick Scott's dogged determination to stuff his family coffers with as much public money as he can, while he can. It's the Republican way.
Scott's holdings are mostly in large, publicly traded companies, but attorneys for the governor also provided specific details of five other investments with clear Florida ties.
Scott's most controversial investment, Solantic Corp., an urgent care company he founded in 2001, wasn't part of the panel's review.
Scott last month said he was selling the company after pushing back against criticism that the firm could profit from health care initiatives his administration was advancing. But Scott and Burgess said Friday that the sale hasn't happened yet.
"We're just waiting for regulatory approval," Scott said, adding that he expected the sale to be finalized within 30 days.
Burgess said Solantic's sale to minority investors in the firm has been delayed by difficulty in transferring a number of licenses held by Solantic. The move could take as long as 60 days, he said. Scott initially refused to sell Solantic, then moved it into a trust held by his wife, Ann, while refusing to restrict the firm from seeking business from the state. The ethics opinion Scott sought and received Friday made no mention of his wife's assets.
While Scott spent $73 million of his own money on last fall's race for governor, his wife steered $12.8 million from the F. Annette Scott Revocable Trust to her husband's campaign.
As questions lingered about Solantic's possible role in a state Medicaid overhaul or expanded employee drug testing sought by Scott, the governor last month announced the sale.
Scott has talked about putting his assets into a blind trust since the campaign. But it, too, is a lengthy process, Burgess said Friday.
Scott, though, insisted later, "It's formed."
Three of the companies detailed in Friday's request from Scott for an advisory opinion from the ethics panel are in the propane and natural gas transportation business. The fourth is Republic Services, the nation's second-largest waste-hauling company.
Scott also is a limited partner in a New York-based investment fund that has a controlling interest in 21st Century Oncology, which operates cancer radiation centers in Florida.
(cross-posted at Brilliant at Breakfast.