Court Battle Asks Whether Blind Trusts Meet Sunshine Requirements

Jan 14, 2015

Florida's First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.
Credit Nick Evans

Florida’s First District Court of Appeal heard arguments Wednesday in a case challenging the use of blind trusts to meet state financial disclosure requirements.

D’Alemberte and his client Jim Apthorp have a personal stake in the ethics reforms commonly referred to as Florida’s Sunshine Amendment.  In the mid-seventies, D’Alemberte chaired the state’s commission on Ethics, and Apthorp served as the late Gov. Reubin Askew’s chief of staff.  They both feel a 2013 law stating blind trusts effectively avoid conflicts of interest, threatens Askew’s legacy of financial disclosure for public officials.  But Allen Windsor, counsel for the Secretary of State, says blind trusts are a sufficient to curb corruption.

“Our position is it is fully consistent with the overall purpose of the Sunshine Amendment,” Windsor says, “which was to enhance trust in government, enhance trust in public officials, by ensuring that people don’t enrich themselves through their public office and so conflict of interest is a big part of that.”

But D’Alemberte argues a blind trust skirts the amendment’s call for full and public disclosure, and that watering down its requirements is explicitly forbidden by the amendment itself.

“Again look closely at subsection H,” Askew says, “it says it shall not be limited.  It shall not limit disclosures established by law, well subsection I is law.”

Subsection I, also referred to as the schedule, codifies what information has to be shared.  Its requirements include a statement of net worth and a list of all assets and liabilities of more than $1,000. 

The only official using a blind trust currently is Rick Scott, but even with such a small pool, it seems unlikely the case will stop at the appeals court.