When the people of the state of Florida elected Governor Rick Scott in 2010, they literally elected a criminal. A criminal who was never sent to jail for overseeing the largest case of Medicare fraud in the nation’s history. His company, Columbia/ HCA Healthcare Corporation, was fined $1.7 billion for overbilling Medicare patients. In spite of this, Rick Scott was never arrested and Republicans in the state of Florida elected him not once, but twice, to govern the Sunshine State. So, it should come as no surprise, that Governor Scott is up to his old tricks and is getting away with stealing from taxpayers AGAIN.
Earlier this month, Governor Scott was forced to settle seven lawsuits brought against him and his Cabinet for breaking the state’s Sunshine Law. According to the suits, Scott and his colleagues created private email accounts, used these accounts to conduct state business for the sole purpose of hiding from the state’s public records law. When it was discovered that Scott was breaking the law, he denied it (just like he did the Medicare fraud) and when it was proven that he was lying, he and State Attorney General Pam Bondi, used tax dollars to make the suits go away.
According to the Tampa Bay Times the Scott administration has now spent nearly $1.3 million in taxpayer money to make his problems disappear. Here is a breakdown of the costs:
- $700,000 will be paid to Steven R. Andrews, a Tallahassee lawyer who filed one of the suits
- $55,000 will be paid to St. Pete lawyer Matthew Weidner and several media outlets
- $164,999 was paid to lawyers to defend Scott and other officials in the Andrews case
- $139,249 was paid to defend Scott in the Weidner case
- $225,000 also went to attorneys to defend Cabinet officials in the Weidner case
Early this summer the state was facing a government shutdown because of a huge budget shortfalls and a fight over Medicare expansion. Scott convinced Republicans in the House that Florida could not afford to offer insurance to the state’s working poor; this move left nearly a million Floridians without health insurance. Furthermore, Scott has reduced the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) budget every year that he has been in office, even though the state’s ecosystem is extremely fragile and needs budget increases, not decreases. This is what makes Scott’s theft so enraging.
Most of the money to pay the settlement in the Andrews case is coming from the DEP budget — $400,000. That is $400,000 that could have been spent restoring the state’s wetlands or acquiring more land. While none of the money is coming from the healthcare system, it’s important to note what Scott’s priorities are. He can’t afford to protect the environment or provide the working poor with health insurance, but he can afford to break the law and steal Floridians’ money to pay off the people who discover his theft.
As if it is not bad enough that he has stolen from taxpayers to cover up his crimes, there has not been one single criminal inquiry into his actions. Barbara Petersen, president of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, explained just how unbelievable this is to the Orlando Sentinel:
“Our governor has violated our constitutional right of access, and we’re paying for him to defend himself for violating our rights. We’re not getting transparency. We’re not getting the records. We’re only getting the bills.”
Peterson is right. Floridians are not only stuck with a governor who has shown a complete disregard for their rights, but they are paying for it. He and his colleagues should not be allowed to use tax dollars to settle lawsuits related to their crimes. This is money that the state desperately needs for all of the other things Rick Scott and his fellow Republicans claim they do not have money for. They are robbing the state blind and the justice system is allowing it.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.