So Rick Scott's Columbia/HCA hospital company was whacked with a $1.7 billion fraud fine? Well, so was NationsBank for selling shady securities when Alex Sink was a Florida president. So says a new ad from Rick Scott.
Two big differences between the scandals:
1) NationsBank in the mid 90s paid fines of at least $7 million and settlements of about $60 million. Added together, that's about 25 times lower than the HCA fines.
2) And Scott headed the hospital company that was fined and criminally investigated. Sink was a state president, not the head honcho in her firm at the time. The decision to sell questionable securities as low-risk investments appears to have been initiatied above her head by NationsBank's Charlotte, N.C. headquarters in conjunction with a subsidiary of the company, NationsSecurity, said Jonathan Alpert, a lead lawyer who successfully sued the company.
“Alex Sink could’ve done nothing about it. It was run out of Charlotte. I know she knew what was going on – that investments were being sold in the bank -- but that's it. And she was powerless to stop it, anyway. I had emails where the state presidents were being told what to do, that they had to help the securities people. They would dig into customers bank accounts to identify people who had enough money to buy securities," Alpert said. "Charlotte said: 'This is what’s going to happen in your bank lobbies and this is the way it’s going to be.' They didn’t say you’re going to do A, B, C and D they would say the bank cooperates fully with NationsSecurity.... If Alex Sink were involved in it, it would be a wonderful story for the gubernatorial election. But she didn’t know anything about it.”
So on one hand, it's true that, as the ad says, "Alex Sink's own company was fined" for what went on, but it wasn't the portion of the company she ran. Sink, though, doesn't make clear in her ads what company she led, only saying "I ran my company with honesty and integrity." That's excerpted in Scott's latest salvo as well. When he cut his last ad about Sink's role in pension-fund troubles, Scott made it sounds as if she had a singular a role in steering the investments (when Gov. Charlie Crist and Attorney General Bill McCollum had equal votes). As misleading as that is, the ad featured a clip of Sink calling herself the state's "fiscal watchdog."
Oops. Sometimes it's best not to take credit for something, because it can lead to debits you don't want.
Sink also has said she hasn't had "a whiff of scandal" about her. But some questionable accounting practices at Sykes Enterprises qualifies as a "whiff." (more here). In that case, Sink said she didn't know that the company's accounting practices were suspect. She didn't know some of the State Board of Administration investments were bad. And she didn't know that the NationsBank securities guys were, essentially, ripping off a few old people in her bank lobbies.
Eventually, the I-didn't-know-it-was-happening defense could become the stuff of its own ad. Then, the Scott ad folks wouldn't have to stretch the truth. But they did here. And Alpert (who said he just voted for Sink) said it's not accurate: "If Alex Sink were involved in it, it would be a wonderful story for the gubernatorial election. But she didn’t know anything about it.”
We'll let the PolitifactFlorida people give a more thorough review and render a judgment. Last time, I said an anti-Sink ad from Scott "seemed accurate...at first blush), it was declared false by factcheck.org. So much for my blushes.