By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
An ethics complaint was filed against Gov. Rick Scott this week over an investment he made in 2011.
Gov. Rick Scott’s six-figure stake in a French energy company is angering environmentalists because the firm is involved in oil drilling in Collier County, near the Everglades.
Scott and the Cabinet oversee the Department of Environmental Protection, which regulates oil drilling in Florida, and Scott has invested in businesses that could be regulated by DEP and other state agencies.
…To avoid conflicts, Scott put his wealth in a blind trust three years ago, and an adviser is assigned to manage Scott’s money without his knowledge.
“I put everything in a blind trust, so I don’t know what’s in the blind trust,” Scott said last week.
In 2011, the original blind trust showed a $135,000 investment in Schlumberger Ltd., the world’s largest oil services company.
Its stock has risen steadily over the past year and trades at $107 a share, but the blind trust prevents the public from knowing whether Scott still has a stake in the company — or whether it has grown.
Schlumberger provided services to a Texas-based oil company called the Dan A. Hughes company. Hughes has been drilling in Collier County for some time and is currently trying to expand its oil exploration efforts in the area.
Several months ago, DEP granted the company permission to explore for oil 1,000 feet away from homes in Golden Gate. The area is also at the intersection of several conservation lands. For this reason, environmentalists and residents have already been fighting with state and local officials to stop the company’s efforts.
Opposition to Dan A. Hughes recently grew when the company was penalized by state officials for using an unauthorized drilling method near Lake Trafford, which environmentalist say is a lot like hydraulic fracturing– or “fracking.” Despite a penalty from the state, officials in Collier County say the state has not done enough and has not been transparent in its dealings with Hughes.
Following news that Scott had ties to a company that helped Hughes expand its drilling effort, the Scott campaign says the governor is no longer tied to Schlumberger. Scott released information this week about his financial assets as part of his filing as a candidate for the upcoming gubernatorial election. In that filing, there is no mention of Schlumberger.
In a statement to the press, Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair said, “the people of Florida know that the Governor no longer has Schlumberger as a financial asset because the Governor fully disclosed all the assets in his blind trust for purposes of qualifying as a candidate [Tuesday].”
However, a Broward County activist who used to live in Naples and once ran for office as a Democrat in Collier County filed an ethics complaint against Scott for his investment back in 2011.
An investment in a French oil services company that drills in Florida poses a conflict of interest for Gov. Rick Scott, according to a complaint filed with the Commission on Ethics on Tuesday by a Broward County activist.
In the complaint, John Lundin alleges that Scott’s past $135,000 investment in Schlumberger LTD., once held in a blind trust, is grounds for a broader investigation into Scott’s portfolio. Lundin said he filed the complaint after reading about Scott’s investment in Schlumberger in the Times/Herald on Sunday.
“Gov. Scott’s blind trust does not exempt him from complying with State of Florida ethics laws for financial conflicts of interest,” said Lundin, 60, who now lives in Hollywood.
…Lundin said that Scott should have instructed his brokerage firm, C.L. King & Associates, to divest his portfolio of any financial investments that he oversees through the DEP.
“Gov. Scott failed to do this, which is a financial conflict of interest,” Lundin states in the complaint.
If the Florida Commission on Ethics decides the complaint has sufficient legal standing, the complaint can go forward. This will likely result in an investigation by the Commission — and possibly a public trial and/or penalty down the road. However, if the Commission doesn’t find that Scott violated campaign finance laws, the complaint is dismissed and the records become public.
It will be a tough fight because the Commission recently ruled that blind trusts are actually effective in shielding a public official from a conflict of interest; because there is a trustee overseeing the trust, Scott in effect does not know what is happening with his financial assets.