TAMPA — Florida voters are being inundated by an unusually early and negative wave of advertising in the governor’s race, launched by Republican Gov. Rick Scott against his likely Democratic challenger Charlie Crist and drawing an immediate response from the Crist camp.
The ads contain a number of distortions and misrepresentations of fact. Here’s one of the most obvious:
In repeated ads, Scott blames Crist for the 2008 global economic meltdown’s effects on Florida and takes credit for the effects of the recovery — a message that forms the basis of his campaign.
Experts say neither governor had much to do with that history. The effects were largely determined by global or national forces and the state’s own, underlying economic structure.
Crist, meantime, takes credit for aid that came to the state under the Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan, helping prevent layoffs of teachers, police and firefighters. He also may be exaggerating the effects of that aid. In addition, the Florida Democratic Party is running ads castigating Scott for the kind of education cuts and tuition increases that also occurred under Crist.
The state parties and Scott’s independent political committee Let’s Get To Work are airing many of the ads.
They can accept donations of unlimited size, while the campaigns face contributions limits. Scott and the Republicans, with far more money, have run far more ads.
Here’s a look at the claims in some of the ads, starting with the Democratic side.
Sponsor: Crist campaign
Video: Florida scenes including a sunset over the Sunshine Skyway; Crist speaking into the camera.
Text (Crist): “We’re famous for our sunshine here. But for many, work starts before it comes up and continues long after it goes down. That’s who I fought for every day as your governor.
“We saved the jobs of 20,000 teachers. We cut property taxes for seniors and our middle class. And if you send me back, I’ll raise the minimum wage, demand equal pay for women and restore funding for our schools. I’ll fight for you from sunrise to sunset. I always have and I always will.”
Analysis: Crist, as governor, accepted some $13 billion in aid under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or economic stimulus program, much of it for education. Some Republican governors, as Crist was then, declined the money.
How many teachers’ jobs were “saved,” however, is uncertain.
According to state Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters, the stimulus money “affected” 19,166 full-time-equivalent jobs involving 31,003 individuals classified as “instructional personnel.”
Whether they would have been laid off otherwise, or how many, would have depended on how local school districts decided to cut their budgets, she said.
“Instructional personnel” includes many jobs besides classroom teachers, including librarians, counselors and audio-visual workers.
The tax cuts for the middle class and elderly refer to the Save Our Homes constitutional amendment supported by Crist and passed by voters in 2008, and to a bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Crist raising the homestead exemption for low-income seniors.
Save Our Homes substantially cut taxes on owner-occupied homes, but has been criticized for providing excessive benefits to long-term homeowners, creating an unfair tax structure.
Sponsor: Florida Democratic Party
Video: A blackboard in a classroom on which are projected grainy video scenes of Scott and others.
Text (by a narrator): “He didn’t side with students and parents when Rick Scott cut education funding by over a billion dollars.
“Working and middle-class families? Nope. Not on their side when Scott’s cuts forced tuition increases at 11 Florida universities. Why would he do it? Whose side was Rick Scott on? Scott cut education to pay for even more tax breaks.”
Analysis: Faced with sharply declining state revenues, the end of the economic stimulus program and having promised tax cuts, Scott proposed some $5 billion in education cuts his first year as governor; about $1.3 billion were enacted. In subsequent budgets, with state revenues rebounding, some of that money was restored.
In 2012, the budget passed by the Legislature included about $300 million in cuts to higher education; legislators cited reserves held by the universities as their rationale. Those cuts also have been restored.
Both Scott and Crist have overseen university tuition increases as governor; both also have vetoed tuition increases. Experts say tuition has gone up for reasons including the national economic collapse and Florida’s comparatively low rates.
After big increases in his first two years, Scott has tried to hold the line, taking advantage of the improving economy.
Sponsor: Florida Democratic Party
Video: Scenes of Scott answering questions in news conferences and in a videotaped deposition.
Text (narrator): “Maybe you’ve heard about what was the largest Medicare fraud in history committed when Rick Scott was a CEO, or that Scott’s company paid record fraud fines of $1.7 billion.
“And when Scott was deposed in lawsuits about his company, he took the 5th 75 times, meaning 75 times Scott refused to answer questions because if he had, he might admit to committing a crime. A troubling past. And now Rick Scott is our governor.”
Analysis: It’s true that Scott’s former hospital chain, Columbia/HCA, paid the largest fine in history for Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare fraud after an investigation in the 1990s. Scott was not charged in the case.
In 2000, Scott was deposed in connection with a breach of contract lawsuit against Columbia/HCA and refused to answer any questions at all, citing his constitutional 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
The lawsuit was not part of the fraud investigation, but Scott’s lawyer cited that investigation as his reason for taking the 5th.
Title: “Ran Away”
Sponsor: Let’s Get to Work, pro-Scott committee
Text (narrator): “The numbers tell the story. Florida’s unemployment tripled. 800,000 jobs gone. Property values down. Bankruptcies up. More foreclosures than any state. Government went deep in debt. State borrowing at an all-time high.
“Which governor took Florida to the bottom? Charlie Crist. What’s worse, he didn’t stay to fix the mess. He ran away. Tried to go to Washington instead. Charlie Crist – slick politician, lousy governor.”
Video: Animated silhouette of a man in a suit running; graphics repeating narrator’s words; photos of Crist’s 2010 Senate campaign.
Title: “The Better Governor”
Sponsor: Republican Party of Florida
Video: The ad, a response to Crist’s Sunshine ad, opens with a scene from the Sunshine ad then uses side-by-side photos of Crist and Scott to make comparisons.
Text (by narrator): “Nice sunset, nice tan. But what’s the real choice between Charlie Crist and Gov. Scott? Charlie Crist slashed education by nearly $1.4 billion. Under Rick Scott, education funding’s at an all time high. Gov. Crist lost 800,000 jobs. Scott helped create nearly 600,000 jobs.
“Crist maxxed out the state credit card. Scott reduced state debt by $3 billion. Charlie Crist? He’s smooth. Rick Scott? He’s the better governor.”
On-screen graphics: “Slashed state education funding by $1.39b.” “Education funding at an all-time high.” “Lost 832,000 jobs.” “Helped create 583,000 private-sector jobs.” “Ran up $5.2 billion in debt.” “Reduced state debt by $3.6b.”
Analysis: Both ads repeat Scott’s contention that Crist was responsible for job losses and economic decline in Florida during the recession and that Scott is responsible for job growth since. Experts say that isn’t true.
The figures on jobs losses and gains are roughly accurate according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics.
Most economists agree on the causes: “The collapse of the housing bubble — fueled by low interest rates, easy and available credit, scant regulation and toxic mortgages — was the spark,” said the 2011 report of the congressional Financial Crisis Inquiry Report on the crash.
Florida was affected more than other states because its economy heavily depends on real estate development.
The sub-prime mortgage collapse “dried up housing financing and seized up financial markets,” economist Sean Snaith of the University of Central Florida told the Tribune last year. “That was a global phenomenon. ... No state could have been sheltered from events of that magnitude, let alone Florida, where the housing market was such a big part of the economy.”
The ad says Scott “helped” create the returning jobs, and it’s true he has devoted most of his energy in office to economic expansion and job creation.
But the rebound in job numbers actually began while Crist was governor, with a small gain during 2010. Further, before Scott took office, economists from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity already were predicting growth of more than a million jobs by 2017.
The recession sharply cut state revenues, which led to more state borrowing. In Florida, the Legislature, long dominated by Republicans, and the governor together determine the level of the state’s borrowing. State revenues are now rebounding.
It’s true that Crist left the governor’s office in 2010 to run for the U.S. Senate when he was widely expected to win a second term as governor.
Title: “What’s He Hiding?”
Sponsor: Lets Get to Work, pro-Scott committee
Video: Scenes of Scott greeting citizens and with his family; photos of Crist and his wife, Carole Crist.
Text: (narrator): “Governor Rick Scott believes transparency matters. That’s why he and his wife Ann released their tax returns in 2010 and again this year.
“But millionaire Charlie Crist refuses to release his spouse’s tax returns. Candidates for governor routinely disclose those returns. Alex Sink and Rick Scott both did it four years ago.
“So what is Charlie Crist hiding? The people of Florida deserve to know. Charlie Crist. Slick politician. Lousy governor.”
Analysis: It’s true that Scott has released the joint tax returns filed by himself and his wife, Ann Scott, for 2010-2012, but not for 2013. He has asked for a filing extension.
A Democratic opposition research committee, American Bridge, has posted a searchable version of the 188 pages of returns.
Crist, meantime, has been releasing his own returns annually for more than a decade as part of his financial disclosures as a public official, and has posted 20 years worth online.
Crist and his wife, the former Carole Rome, married in December 2009, file separate returns, and Crist has refused to release hers. She is wealthy from a family novelty business.
Alex Sink and her late husband Bill McBride, who had been married 25 years when he died in 2012, also filed separately. As the ad states, each released returns for the other when they ran.
Crist’s latest financial disclosure shows a net worth of $1.25 million, a small fraction of Scott’s.
Title: “Four Years Ago”
Sponsor: Let’s Get to Work
Text (narrator): “Guess how Charlie Crist begins his campaign — with false ads distorting events from nearly 20 years ago. Charlie is talking about 20 years ago because he doesn’t want to talk about four years ago, when he was governor.
“Gov. Crist cut education by $300 million. Under Gov. Crist, 3,000 teachers laid off. Gov. Crist allowed college tuition to go up 15 percent every year. Our schools and politicians paid the price. Slick politician, lousy governor.”
Video: Animated graphic with text repeating narrator’s words, pictures of Crist and Scott, and stills from a Crist ad attacking Scott.
Title: “Not Buying It”
Sponsor: Florida Republican Party
Video: Clips from Crist’s Sunshine ad, interspersed with contradictory claims by a narrator.
Crist ad: “We saved the jobs of 20,000 teachers
Narrator: “3,000 teachers lost their jobs under Crist.”
Crist ad: “We cut property taxes for seniors and our middle class.”
Narrator: “Nice try Charlie. Crist raised taxes on the middle class by billions of dollars.”
Crist ad: “And if you send me back I’ll raise the minimum wage.”
Narrator: “Really? Crist voted against raising the minimum wage.”
Crist ad: “And restore funding for our schools.”
Narrator: “Under Crist, funding for schools was cut by more than $1 billion. “Sorry Charlie. This time we’re just not buying it.”
Analysis: The ad continues the battle between Scott and Crist over education and tuition cuts.
It’s true that Crist oversaw an education budget cut of more than $300 million in 2008 and some $2.2 billion in increased tobacco taxes and auto license and registration fees, as the Legislature, faced with revenues declining sharply, enacted an austerity budget.
Crist had recommended higher education spending, but signed the budget bill, saying, “We’re dealing with difficult times, where it’s challenging to make ends meet.”
The claim of 3,000 layoffs is likely exaggerated at best.
According to the Republican Party, it’s based on a study by the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research. In its introduction, that study says its information source is “press accounts of government planned job cuts,” and adds, “In some cases, the cuts may not have actually been implemented because of subsequent budget adjustments. Also, the job losses may have been met through attrition rather than actual layoffs.”
The Republican Party says Crist “voted against the minimum wage” in a conference call by the board of the business development group Enterprise Florida in 2004, on a resolution opposing a minimum wage increase. Crist was a board member at the time.