On the cusp of winning the Republican nomination for governor in Florida, Rick Scott cracked a joke on a primary night alluding to powerful interests in Florida that had aligned themselves with his opponent, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum: “In Tallahassee tonight, the deal-makers are crying in their cocktails.”
Now those deal-makers — lobbyists, legislators, and party fundraisers — are quickly teaming up with Scott to raise funds for his campaign and make an about-face on the man whom they spurned, attacked, and campaigned against prior to Aug. 24.
Rick Scott ran and won calling himself an outsider candidate. “Florida needs an outsider who is not part of the political establishment. … That’s why I’m running for governor,” he said in his opening campaign announcement. “The political establishment won’t be happy because I threaten their status quo, they attack.”
He said in an interview with Florida Baptist Witness, “So, I think it’s time that we elect more principled people that are not controlled by special interests, that are going to put Floridians first.”
His campaign spokeswoman told Sunshine State News less than a week before the primary (after he cut an ad accusing McCollum of being “for rent” from special interests), that “Bill McCollum is a career politician whose campaign is awash with money from special interests. Floridians are sick of the same career politicians and special interests running Tallahassee, and Bill McCollum is leasing his principles for campaign cash upfront.”
Now that he is in a general election against Democratic nominee and Florida CFO Alex Sink, Scott is making nice with some of those interests and vice versa. (The Scott campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on this article.)
At least part of this make-up time was very public. Scott completed a statewide unity tour with two state legislators, Dean Cannon and Mike Haridopolos, whose associated 527 groups funneled millions to the McCollum 527 that ran attack ads against Scott, and in particular, his tenure at Columbia/HCA. The Republican Party of Florida, too, endorsed Scott. It spent $2 million running an attack ad against Alex Sink — not mentioning Rick Scott — for the endorsement she received from President Obama.
But Scott has largely decided to dump the idea of self-funding for the general election after spending $50 million of his own money in the primary and beyond. On Aug. 30, he said he was “probably” done with spending his own money and wants to raise money using traditional party channels.
To do so, he basically hired away McCollum’s campaign finance staff, including David Browning, former Republican Party of Florida finance guru Meredith O’Rourke, Carrie O’Rourke, Gretchen Picotte, and Bridget Nocco. Meredith O’Rourke was named in the affidavit against former state Republican Party chair Jim Greer — who resigned from RPOF after allegations of illegal use of donor money. Greer made her sign a much-reduced contract and cut off her access to Gov. Charlie Crist after she refused to work more closely with Greer.
Former McCollum campaign finance director Carrie O’Rourke solicited on behalf of Bill McCollum for the 527 groups Florida First Initiative before the attorney general signed a statement of solicitation with the group as required by law, a move that the Scott campaign criticized at the time, with his spokeswoman, Jennifer Baker, telling the St. Petersburg Times, “Bill McCollum has sunk to a new low even for a career politician.”
Business interests are also lining up with Scott. The Associated Industries of Florida, a business lobbying group, endorsed both Scott and McCollum. The two held similar positions on most issues. Friday morning, AIF held a breakfast with Scott in its Tallahassee office with business leaders and lobbyists who applauded loudest to Scott’s proposal to phase out all business taxes and his opposition to Amendment 4. Later that day, he met with more lobbyists in the capital.
Another business group, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, who endorsed Bill McCollum has yet to endorse Scott. The national arm of the group donated $500,000 to a McCollum-associated 527. A Chamber spokeswoman, Edie Ousley, said that the group expected to endorse someone, but an endorsement was a few weeks off. However, Chamber chair Steve Halverson sat down with Scott on the Unity Tour in Jacksonville on Aug. 31. “This is an issues-dominated process, not a personality-dominated process. …We simply knew [McCollum] better,” said Halverson to the Death, Taxes & Politics blog at the Florida Times-Union.
Some interests haven’t lined up for Scott. U.S. Sugar donated to McCollum in the primary (Scott said U.S. Sugar and McCollum had a “secret sugar deal“), but has yet to make a move since Scott’s victory. McCollum himself has refused to endorse Scott, citing ongoing ethical concerns over his tenure as CEO of Columbia/HCA after he was forced out after the company paid a $1.7 billion fine to the U.S. government for Medicare and Medicaid fraud in 1997.
Polls show that Scott and Sink are tied. She is running as an outsider candidate, as well; her bio mentions a “life lived outside of politics.” Running for her first public office, she was elected as Florida’s chief financial officer in 2006. Even at that, she has more experience in elected positions than Scott, who has never held office. So both candidates could be considered outsiders to politics, but that status never lasts long in a campaign.
Luke Johnson reports on Florida for The American Independent.