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Groups Ask Florida Supreme Court To Stop Candidates, Elected Officials From Using Blind Trusts

Supporters of Florida’s open government laws have filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court attempting to overthrow state laws regarding blind trusts. 

The group says they aren’t targeting any one person, although the only current elected state official with a blind trust is Governor Rick Scott.

A blind trust is when a person turns over control of their assets to another group to manage them.  Scott’s lawyers advised the governor on the blind trust, and the state ethics commission signed off on it. Sandy D’Alemberte, former head of the American Bar Association and party to the lawsuit, says the governor did nothing wrong.

“Our view is that Governor Rick Scott behaved himself consistent with a way of a person trying to get good legal advice. He went to good lawyers. They gave him, in our judgment, bad advice. We don’t think a blind trust can ever be full, public disclosure," he says.

Still, D’Alemberte and Jim Apthorp, former Chief of staff to the late Governor Reubin Askew who championed the state’s Sunshine Laws, say the idea behind the blind trust is contradictory.

“The purpose of a blind trust is to shield an office holder from any indication they might be guiding or directing the investments in that trust,” Apthorp says. “So it becomes invisible to the person who set up the trust. But unfortunately, the way the law works today, it also becomes invisible to the public.”

Apthorp says that invisibility to the public violates state rules on financial disclosure. A 2013 law put the blind trusts onto the state rule books, but groups like the League of Women Voters and First Amendment Foundation say that law is unconstitutional. While Scott is the only publicly-elected official with a blind trust right now, he’s not the only one who has ever used it. Former Democratic Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink held her assets in a blind trust while occupying the post.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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