Charlie Crist Reminding Voters of Fraud at Rick Scott's Company
Republican-turned-Democrat former Gov. Charlie Crist isn't letting voters forget that Republican Gov. Rick Scott ran a hospital chain that paid $1.7 billion in fines for Medicaid and Medicare fraud.
Even though Scott survived similar attacks in his primary and general election victories in 2010, Crist is consistently pointing out the Columbia/HCA fraud case and that Scott in a separate civil lawsuit cited his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 75 times while refusing to answer questions related to the hospital chain. And his campaign and the Florida Democratic Party have run ads, created a website and issued dozens of news releases also hitting the same point.
And on Monday, the campaign introduced reporters to one of the whistleblowers in the Columbia/HCA case, John Schilling, who worked with the FBI to uncover overbilling practices at the hospital chain. Schilling said he's convinced that Scott ran a criminal enterprise.
But will the strategy work?
"The question is, does it really matter? Yes, he's a flawed character, he has questionable ethics, but is that the major turning point?" said Dan Smith, a University of Florida political science professor. "I think we found that out in 2010. The answer is no."
When it was pointed out to Crist recently that voters knew about the fraud and Scott still won, Crist responded, "Barely."
"We know his past, we know he pled the Fifth 75 times under oath. You know how many times I've pled the fifth? Zero," Crist said. "I'm going to keep telling the truth about him and who he is and how that has now transformed into his office of governor."
Scott stepped down as Columbia/HCA's CEO in 1997 during the federal investigation. At the time, news reports said Scott was a target in the investigation, but when the company reached a settlement and agreed to pay the fines, the federal government agreed to drop any pending criminal or civil investigations.
Schilling said he believes Scott knew about the widespread fraud at Columbia/HCA. Scott four years ago said he was unaware of the fraud, though took responsibility for it as CEO.
"He was running a multibillion-dollar company: ignorance is no excuse," Schilling said. "You have to know what's going on in your organization. Do we want someone to governor our state that doesn't know what's going on in our government."
The Scott campaign wouldn't directly answer questions about Columbia/HCA or Schilling's comments, instead pointing at Crist's association with former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer, who pleaded guilty to stealing money from the party, and political donor Scott Rothstein, who is in prison after being convicted of running a Ponzi scheme.
"All Charlie has is 20-year-old mudslinging because he is desperate to distract from LOSING 832,000 jobs and his knowledge of the crimes of Jim Greer and Scott Rothstein - Charlie's top campaign fundraisers who were both jailed for fraud and corruption," Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair wrote in an email.
Alex Sink, who was the Democrats' 2010 nominee, said that attacking Scott over the fraud did help - it just wasn't enough in a year when Republicans trounced Democrats.
"When you consider that in the tea party wave of four years ago every other Democrat was losing by 10 points," said Sink, who lost by 1 percentage point. "It was because of all the people who recognized Rick Scott had this very questionable background. It was definitely a factor."
But she also questioned whether it is old news.
"Now that he's been in office this year - pick one - there are dozens of things to go after him on: education, the environment, flaunting the public record laws of the state, his management and the turnover he's had," Sink said. "There're so many things you can criticize him on."