Florida Ethics Commission: No Problem With Rick Scott's Cash From Private Prison Firms

The Teamsters' ethics complaint filed last month against Gov. Rick Scott -- which alleged his million bucks from private prison corporations was somehow affecting the state's decision to enter contracts with the companies -- has been tossed out by the Florida Ethics Commission.

Among other things, the commission says that "pay to play politics" don't equate to "the quid-pro-quo, criminal-bribery-like understanding allegation" needed to constitute an ethics violation.

Out of the four allegations dropped on the governor by the Teamsters, the ethics board didn't necessarily disagree with them but did toss out all the claims for "legal insufficiency."

The first claim was that Scott was using his public position in a manner that was inconsistent with the performance of his public duties.

The commission denied that on its face, saying privatizing prisons is a policy choice from the Legislature, which -- given the governor's approval -- is consistent with his public duties.

Then there was the "pay to play" allegation.

Aside from the commission's statement that it's not the same as criminal bribery, it also says a campaign contribution is in a "special class of gifts" that don't apply to the state law prohibiting anyone from "accepting anything of value" based on any understanding that it could influence their decisions.

The Teamsters also tried to point out a violation of a similar state law about unlawful compensation, to which the commission replied that you have to prove that the money was intended to influence the governor's decisions. Because the governor didn't announce he was all for privatizing prisons because of the great campaign contributions, that one was tossed out as well.

The last allegation also regarded the concept of "gifts," in which the same reasoning was used -- campaign contributions aren't exactly gifts.

"Accordingly, this complaint is hereby dismissed for failure to constitute a legally sufficient complaint with the issuance of this public report," the commission writes.

This is now the second ethics complaint against the governor that has been dropped, since a challenge was raised about his ownership of the health care chain Solantic.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley