TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who has kept private many of his financial dealings during his three years in office, will likely get to keep it that way.
The state's ethics panel on Friday approved the way the multimillionaire is handling his finances - including his decision to set aside nearly $74 million of his assets into an account that is controlled by a New York firm that includes Scott's former business associates.
The Florida Commission on Ethics ruled that Scott's blind trust complies with a sweeping new law that gives public officials a "safe harbor" from conflict-of-interest charges. Commission attorneys even praised Scott for setting up the trust more than two years ago.
"What we have here is sort of the governor continuing to be very transparent and complying with the ethics laws since the beginning," said Christopher Anderson, general counsel for the commission.
The commission vote was unanimous and done without any debate.
But a watchdog group questioned the swift decision, calling it an "inherently flawed process."
"Blind trusts allow officials to keep their assets secret, leaving the public unable to hold them accountable," said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida. "The ethics commission did not use its authority to seek additional information for this opinion beyond the limited facts presented to them by the governor."
Krassner questioned the independence of the blind trust since the company managing Scott's account - Hollow Brook Wealth Management - includes Scott's portfolio manager for 10 years. An accountant at the company also worked for Scott for 12 years.
Pete Antonacci, the general counsel for Scott, insisted that the company qualifies to be a trustee under Florida law.
Scott, a former health care company executive, was a successful businessman before entering politics. He is refusing his $130,000 salary and instead received $3.1 million from his trust last year. He uses his family's personal jet to fly around the state, saving taxpayers the expense.
During his first-ever run for public office, Scott released three years of tax returns and a lengthy list of all his business holdings. But shortly after he took office, he established the trust to remove direct control over his finances in order to avoid potential conflicts.
Since Scott did that, his annual financial disclosures have contained limited information.
A new sweeping ethics law passed this year by the Florida Legislature says that public officials who set up blind trusts must disclose the initial assets placed in the account. Scott last month turned over additional information that showed what assets were included in the account two years ago.
Antonacci repeated Friday that there is no reason to reveal what is included in it now.
"It would certainly defeat the purposes of the blind trust to make the investment decisions of the adviser public," Antonacci said.
He also added that the disclosures previously made by Scott prior to when he was elected "should be sufficient."
None of Scott's annual financial disclosures since becoming governor have included anything about the assets owned by his wife of 41 years, who contributed nearly $13 million out of her trust account to help her husband get elected. Ann Scott was running an interior design company when her husband was elected, but tax returns show it wasn't making any money.
Right before he was sworn into office, Scott transferred to his wife shares in Solantic, a chain of urgent care clinics he started. Those shares were later sold to a New York investment firm after the governor was criticized for potential conflicts of interest.
The information Scott did file last month show that back in 2011 he transferred into his blind trust $1.42 million in shares he owned in a social networking company that came under fire from some conservatives because it had partnered with Playboy magazine in Mexico. Securities and Exchange Commission filings for MeetMe Inc. from this year show that Richard L. Scott Investments acquired an additional $2.75 million in shares and $107,504 in cash from the company.
When Scott first sought office, he reported a net worth of $218 million, while the filing he turned in earlier this summer showed that his net worth was nearly $84 million as of the end of 2012.
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