By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
A Florida businessman who gave half a million dollars to Gov. Rick Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work” re-election campaign laid off almost 500 people this week.
According to The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau, Treasure Island businessman Bill Edwards “abruptly laid off 476 employees from a mortgage business on Monday … the same day the Times/Herald highlighted his donation to Scott.”
According to the Times/Herald, Edwards, the chairman of Mortgage Investors Corp. (MIC), donated $500,000 to Scott’s re-election committee in March. According to the Times:
All told, the 75-year-old company will cut 476 people. That leaves a staff of fewer than 40 at its W Central Avenue offices primarily to wind down operations in 26 states where it has been marketing loans, to service existing loans and to handle customer service.
Many of the affected workers have been with the company for years.
… MIC set aside more than $5.5 million for two-months severance pay for affected employees along with continued benefits and credit for accrued vacations.
Mortgage Investors has been hammered with complaints from customers, both for misleading sales techniques and for allegedly calling millions of people on the federal Do Not Call registry. In June, the Federal Trade Commission levied a civil penalty of $7.5 million on the home lender, the largest fine ever for a violation of the Do Not Call rule.
The FTC said telemarketers from Mortgage Investors misled service members that the company was affiliated with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and that they could receive low-interest, fixed-rate mortgages at no cost. In reality, regulators said, the company was only offering adjustable rate mortgages that left consumers liable for higher payments with rising interest rates. It also required consumers to pay closing costs.
Edwards is telling reporters that the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is to blame for the company’s trouble. The 2010 law was passed in order to put regulations in place for the financial industry in light of the misconduct, which led to the 2008 financial crisis.
The Time/Herald reported that as of late September, Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work” campaign has raised $18.5 million for his re-election. That has doubled the money in his coffers compared to the last reporting period.
Scott’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work, is a magnet for big-money donations from a variety of special interests seeking favors or an audience with the governor’s office. Scott’s incumbency and reliably pro-business positions make him a safe bet for donors.
With nearly 2,600 donors to date, Scott’s re-election fundraising strategy is a stark contrast to his 2010 campaign, when he ran as an outsider, was shunned by the Republican Party network and financed his effort with more than $70 million of his money. This time, Scott is the recipient of money from a deep pool of political insiders, and with the election still more than a year away, he runs a lean operation, having spent about 10 cents of every dollar raised.
Unlike the last election, Scott has said he will not have to spend millions of his own money for his campaign.
Scott’s fundraising power has defined the looming 2014 gubernatorial election by making the pool of prospective Democrats and Republicans considering a challenge to an unpopular governor very small.