Democrat Alex Sink's decision to put her assets in a blind trust to, in her words, avoid a conflict of interest helped her run smack dab into a potential conflict when, as Florida Chief Financial Officer on the state's investment board, she approved a deal that was a "windfall" for a former employer.
Guess who read the St. Petersburg Times article about it all?
Rick Scott's folks. Viola. A new 30-second ad is born to complement the Republican's narrative that the Democrat is bad with money, etc. Sink has responded once already, but with kid gloves. (More here). Expect the F word ("fraud", as in Medicare and Scott's time at Columbia/HCA) to be in Sink's next ad.
At first blush, the ad subtly misleads by suggesting that Sink is solely responsible for the decisions of the State Board of Administration. But otherwise, the 30-second spot seems accurate. There's lots of nuance, here, however. And for that, here are a few highlights from the lengthy article, including Sink's defense:
"I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't,'' she lamented. "I think I deserve a lot of credit for doing something that I wasn't even required to do, doing the right thing, and not wanting there to be any question for people to believe that I have integrity and that I'm making the best decisions I possibly can."
Sink spent 26 years in banking, retiring in 2000 as head of Bank of America's Florida operations. That year, she made $3.4 million from the bank in salary, pension, deferred compensation and stock grants....She owned stock in Bank of America, which receives millions in banking, bond and investment fees from Florida every year. She had investments in other companies that could benefit from actions she might take. And she had served on the board of Raymond James Financial, a St. Petersburg-based brokerage firm that had a stake in her decisions.
So Sink put her assets into a blind trust.... Blind trusts sound good but can run afoul of state laws requiring public officials to disclose their personal finances. (But) simply moving large amounts of money into a blind trust does not magically erase the knowledge of what you own.
If a state official cast a vote that would result in private gain, Florida law requires the official to disclose the conflict within 15 days. The law also forbids a public official from having a financial relationship with any business entity that would create a continuing conflict or impede his or her duties.
Without declaring a potential conflict, Sink has had a stake in matters benefiting her former employer and other companies that she owned stock in before she placed her assets in a blind trust. Because of the trust, it can't be learned how much of a financial interest, if any, she had in the firms at the time of her decisions.
That's the point, Sink says: She didn't know what interests she had, so she had no conflict to declare.
Sink voted with the governor and other Cabinet members to allow negotiated, or no-bid, bond deals for a financial underwriting team that includes her former employer, Bank of America. One transaction resulted in $770,000 in fees for a subsidiary of the bank and its newly acquired Merrill Lynch unit.
She is one of three trustees of the State Board of Administration, which administers Florida's hurricane fund. The fund has a financial consulting contract with a subsidiary of Raymond James.
Last November, the head of the SBA notified Sink's deputy that the contract terms could mean a "windfall'' for the company. Sink agreed that those terms had to change. But they stayed the same.