April 2, 2011- If you have a $62 million investment, representing the biggest single chunk of your $218 million in wealth, and you put it in a trust under your wife's name, does that mean you're no longer involved in the company?
Florida Gov. Rick Scott says it does.
Scott has aggressively pursued policies like testing state workers and welfare recipients for drugs, switching Medicaid patients to private HMOs and shrinking public health clinics. All these changes could benefit that $62 million investment, but Scott sees no legal conflict between his public role and private investments.
And, experts say, under Florida law he is correct.
A few days before he took office in January, Scott moved his shares in Solantic Corp., a chain of 32 urgent care centers, to the Frances Annette Scott Revocable Trust. Scott co-founded Solantic in 2001 and was involved in its operation until last year. His wife's trust now holds enough stock in the private company to control it.
Solantic's walk-in clinics, clustered in mid-Florida and along the east coast, handle everything from stitches and sprains to school physicals and immunizations. Charges are posted like fast-food prices and there's a three-day feel-better guarantee — if you're not feeling better after three days, your follow-up visit is free. The company partners with hospitals in several markets, including Shands HealthCare in Gainesville.
By transferring the Solantic shares to his wife's trust, which is represented on the Solantic board by one of his former business associates, Scott maintains he is free from any possible conflicts.
"As I've told you, I'm not involved in that company," he said this week when asked why he didn't sell his shares.
Unless Solantic does business directly with the governor's office, there are no conflicts, says Tallahassee lawyer Mark Herron, an expert on Florida's ethics laws. Most states, as well as the federal government, forbid the kind of share shuffle Scott used.
But in Florida, nothing bars Scott from promoting policies that could benefit a company from which his family benefits financially.