State Politics

Gov. Rick Scott, Florida AG Pam Bondi testify for using blind trust to shield assets

TALLAHASSEE -- Did the Florida Legislature violate the state’s financial disclosure law when it allowed public officials to shield their assets in a blind trust?

Lawyers for Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott say the answer is no, and they made that argument Wednesday before the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

The reason: the state’s Sunshine Amendment to the constitution allows lawmakers to write the rules that govern what constitute “full and public” disclosure of financial assets, even if it means shielding some assets from public view, they argued.

Lawyers for Jim Apthorp, the former chief of staff to the late Gov. Reubin Askew, disagreed.

“The Sunshine Amendment starts off with the words, ‘A public office is a public trust,’” said Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, a former Democratic state representative who helped pass the amendment. “We may not have a blind trust, which conceals, not reveals, what the financial interests are of a public official.”

The debate is at the core of the lawsuit brought by Apthorp, asking the court to overturn a portion of the 2013 ethics law, which allows public officials to to create a blind trust in lieu of revealing their assets on a financial disclosure form.

Apthorp initially asked the Florida Supreme Court to ban Secretary of State Ken Detzner from accepting the qualifying papers of any candidate using a blind trust. The court asked a trial court to decide the case. In July, Leon County Circuit Judge James Cooper ruled that the law was constitutional. Apthorp appealed.