Politics & Government

Rick Scott's tax returns show Florida GOP candidate thriving under Obama

TALLAHASSEE — Rick Scott blames President Barack Obama for the nation's economic woes, but Florida's Republican nominee for governor is doing far better now than he did under the last year of George W. Bush's presidency.

That's according to Scott's last three years of tax returns, which portray a man who, like more and more out-of-work Floridians, earns no wages.

But unlike most of the state's 1 million unemployed workers, Scott earns millions from a long list of investments.

Scott's adjusted gross income in 2009 was $7.87 million, more than double what he made in 2008 during Bush's last year in office. Not only did his income grow under Obama, he paid less in federal taxes -- 13 percent -- than he did the previous year when Uncle Sam took 16 percent.

His best year was 2007, the height of the stock market, when his adjusted income was more than $13 million, of which he paid 15 percent in federal taxes.

How Scott fared in previous years is unknown, because his campaign declined to release anything earlier, unlike his Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, who disclosed her past five years of tax returns.

"We released the three years that Alex Sink has been in office,'' Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said.

Scott's tax returns show how he uses aggressive use of deductions to keep his taxes low. Every year, he claims a deduction from the losses from his wife's interior design business. The business earned no money in 2009 and lost $885.

Scott also deducted charitable contributions. In 2007, he got a tax break for donating a $999 desk to Liberty Youth Ranch in Naples. Two years later, he gave a ``mahogany armoire with gold trim'' to the group. He has also donated $5,000 to the Libertarian Washington think tank, the Cato Institute.

But his biggest charitable deduction for a tax break in 2009 totaled more than $1 million and went to a group called Conservatives for Patients Rights, his tax-exempt political committee that fought Obama's federal health care overhaul.

Known as CPR, the committee helped spark the conservative tea party movement. Running TV ads across the country, the group elevated Scott's profile and included a public relations machine that eventually formed the backbone of his gubernatorial campaign staff, which includes Burgess.

``The list of why Rick Scott can't be trusted keeps getting longer and longer,'' Sink spokeswoman Kyra Jennings said. ``Not following through with his promise to release a full five years of his taxes is the latest example of not following through on his word and just another reason why he's not fit to govern this state.

In 2008, Scott was invested in Halliburton, a controversial oil exploration and defense contractor, but he lost $2,082 when he sold the stock. Records show he bought the stock on Dec. 4, 2007, for $201,082 and sold it for $199,000 on Dec. 1, 2008.

Reading the 412 pages of tax records covering a three-year slice of Scott's financial life, the scope of his investment portfolio is striking, ranging from local Tampa Bay Water bonds to China's giant Yanzhou Coal Mining Company, described by Hoover's Company Records as the producer of 35 million tons per year to fuel China's industrialization.

Scott also has invested in the media, with gain and loss records showing holdings in Gannett Co., Clear Channel and the New York Times Co.

With investments from WalMart to Sara Lee, he reports a stunning array of products and companies -- including Home Depot, Philip Morris, Dow Chemical, Boeing, General Electric, Starbucks and Avon Products.

As for Sink, she released five years of tax returns, 2005-2009, last month, revealing little details about her family's assets.

Since Sink was elected chief financial officer in 2006, her annual income has fluctuated, based on swings from three family trusts, including a blind trust that hold most of her assets.

A former banking executive who retired in 2000, Sink's income during the five-year period hit a low of $274,538 in 2009 and reached a high of $780,598 in 2007.

She is paid an annual salary of $111,456 salary as the state chief financial officer, and receives other income from interest and dividends on assets in her undisclosed portfolio. She keeps all of her personal assets in a blind trust managed by a third-party investment firm.