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Blind trusts and what the millionaires running for Florida's governor say they'll do to avoid investment conflicts

Jeff Greene and familyJeff Greene's entry into the Florida governor's race Wednesday underscored the unavoidable conclusion: Florida's highest offices are quite appealing to the state's richest people. 

Greene, a Palm Beach real estate investor who has said he will spend as much as $200 million to replace Republican governor and millionaire Rick Scott, confirmed he'll be self-funding most of his campaign and "will spend whatever's needed to get the message out." He said he is "not taking a penny from special interests,' but conceded he will accept donations, as long as they are $100 or less.

Greene joins former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine, worth $133 million, and Chris King, an Orlando businessman, who are also the primary contributors to their campaigns for the Democratic nomination. 

Like Levine and King, Greene also told reporters that he would establish a blind trust to shield himself from potential conflicts of interest with his investments. 

"There will be no conflicts of interest if I am elected governor,'' Greene said, launching into his life story in which his father "lost everything" in the 1970s and moved to Florida as Greene remained in Worcester, Massachusetts, to finish high school and then attend Johns Hopkins University.

"If there is anything that I own that will in anyway pose any kind of conflict, I will sell it before taking office or I will put it in a blind trust. But I absolutely won't have any conflicts, that's for sure." 

He said that despite his financial disclosure that shows he is worth $3.3 billion, Greene said his "real worth to Florida is that he is someone that is going to go fight for them because I don't have special interest money behind them. I don't need to do this." 

But not everyone is convinced Florida’s blind trust law is trustworthy.

Gwen Graham, the former congresswoman also seeking the Democratic nomination, disclosed more than $14 million in assets when she filed to qualify Friday, including $13.7 million in stock in the Graham Companies. But Graham is not confident that Florida’as blind trust law really works, as evidenced, she said, by the lawsuit Scott has against him alleging he and his wife have joint control over assets in her trust, which is not disclosed.

Matt Harringer, a spokesman for Graham, said she's placed her Graham Companies holdings in a trust in order to distance herself from the management of her investment. But she has no intention to create a blind trust "because we've seen the problems caused by Scott hiding his assets from the public,'' he said.

Levine said Monday that he would also put his assets $133 million in assets in a blind trust. 

"I think when you're the CEO of an $89 billion organization, I'm not so sure you have time to run anything else,'' he said. "When you become governor, your No. 1 priority is to be governor 24/7. I only wish that same law in Florida would apply to the presidency -- full disclosure and everything else."

Greene said that having rich Democrats run is the only way they can beat Republicans. "The Democrat message is the winning message in the state of Florida. There are more independents who absolutely lean Democratic. The problem is, we have not had the funds to compete with this Republican onslaught that has been two to three times what we've been able to spend."

He said that if he wins the nomination, he will also "do everything I can" down the ballot to "take with me senators, house members, to finally get this state in the right direction."

Photo by Mary Ellen Klas: Jeff Greene with his wife Mei Sze and sons, Malcolm, 8, Brandon, 6 and CamerAn, 4, at the Florida Division of Elections office on Tuesday, where Greene filed his qualification papers to run for governor.

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