By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Sen. Rick Scott’s emailed Week in Review for last week pushed for regime change in Cuba and Venezuela, bashed “Joe Biden’s reckless spending spree’’ and touted a resolution he co-sponsored “honoring the lives lost in the Surfside tragedy.”
What Scott neglected to mention was the lashing he received Thursday from the Federal Election Commission’s nonpartisan General Counsel’s Office, which found reason to believe that during his 2018 run for Senate against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, Scott rather brazenly broke the law and essentially called him a liar.
You’ll recall Scott won that race by a thin margin of just 10,033 votes out of nearly 8.2 million cast.
But those tentative findings are as far as the FEC went in pursuit of Scott. The long dysfunctional commission voted 3-3 to dismiss the allegations against Scott’s candidacy and to find no reason to believe that the political action committee he chaired, New Republican, violated the act’s soft money ban. The vote was three Republicans for dismissal and two Democrats and an Independent commission member voting to find reason to believe Scott broke the law. Further, the deadlock rejected the General Counsel’s recommendation that it be allowed to further investigate, and issue subpoenas if necessary, to examine Scott and New Republican’s activities on his behalf.
“While this outcome is unfortunate it was hardly unexpected,” wrote two Democrats who voted to further investigate, Chairwoman Shana Broussard and member Ellen Weintraub. “For more than a decade, since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, there has been a rise in complaints involving allegations of candidates flouting the Commission’s rules by outsourcing early campaigning to outside political committees. Scott’s conduct is a variation on that theme – in this case, finding a dormant PAC and commandeering it for his purposes. No matter the iteration, it is a violation of the soft money restrictions, deprives the public of valuable campaign information, and merited further review by the Commission.”
Rick Scott probe
The law Sen. Scott, the PAC and its treasurer, ex-Republican National Committee political director Gentry Collins, allegedly violated was the Federal Election Campaign Act, which bans federal candidates from collecting so-called “soft money” unless it is subject to the act’s “limitations, prohibitions and reporting requirements.”
Then-Gov. Scott hadn’t declared himself a federal candidate when he raised more than $1.1 million from May to December 2017 while serving as New Republican’s chairman. The total doubled by the day Scott announced his candidacy on April 8, 2018, according to the FEC’s official 27-page report, called an MUR or Matter Under Review.
New Republican, an independent super PAC, hadn’t raised any money in several years when Scott took it over on May 11, 2017 and hired his former political staffers to run it – a full 11 months before he announced his candidacy. New Republican was eligible to raise unlimited sums from corporations, unions and individuals, but was not allowed to contribute to or coordinate with parties or candidates. Individuals can contributions up to $2,900 to candidates per election.
The PAC’s declared purpose under Scott, today the nation’s wealthiest senator, was to “rebrand the way the Republican Party approaches the challenges of the future” with the goal “to make the Republican Party Great again” and support then-President Trump. But Trump never saw any of that money. “97%…were spent in support of Scott’s candidacy,” according to Broussard and Weintraub.
(The remaining $969,982.60 was spent unsuccessfully opposing Democrat Katie Porter, now a California congresswoman.)
An anti-corruption law
Federal election law was intended to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption by restricting large soft-money donations at the behest of candidates. According to the General Counsel’s report, Scott used New Republican to illegally jump start his senate campaign.
“The available information supports a reasonable inference that after Scott became the Chair of New Republican in 2017, New Republican served as a vehicle to amass funds that would benefit Scott’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate, and Scott became a candidate much earlier than the date of his official announcement. Further, it appears that Scott did not step down from New Republican in December 2017, as respondents contend, but continued his involvement with New Republican well into 2018,” the report says.
As evidence, the FEC report notes that in March 2018 Scott participated in a New Republican fundraiser “in his own home,” the report says. “Although respondents contend that he was a ‘guest’ at this event, New Republican fails to explain how he could be a guest in his own home, where he provided free space to hold the event. Respondents do not deny that Scott solicited funds at this event.”
New Republican PAC began to spend money on Scott’s behalf within days of his announcement, and as money began to pour in. Between May and November 2018, the report says, the PAC spent more than $30.5 million on so-called “independent expenditures.”
In fact, “almost all of the money that New Republican spent in 2018 on independent expenditures was focused on the U.S. Senate race in Florida, with $29,538,077.40 opposing Nelson.”