Jet Plane Fantasies of Charlie Crist and Steve Bousquet
Around the State
Who is more disingenuous about gubernatorial travel, Charlie Crist or Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times?
Charlie is running to get his old job back, you expect hypocrisy and you get it. But what is Bousquet's excuse?
That's the impression Bousquet's Friday blog, "Florida Gov. Rick Scott cloaks travel details, citing security," leaves. That Scott is devious and Charlie is pure.
The Times' bureau chief writes, "To a much greater degree than the past three governors, Scott, former chief executive of the nation’s largest private hospital chain, conceals information from the public about his travel. Govs. Charlie Crist, Jeb Bush and Lawton Chiles routinely released those details."
Well, two out of three maybe. Charlie Crist certainly didn't release any such thing.
Bousquet alludes to Charlie's quid-pro-quo-suspicious behavior when he says, "Crist faced criticism as governor for flying on private jets of wealthy supporters or campaign donors whom he declined to identify. He said he did that to avoid using taxpayer-owned state planes for personal or political reasons."
No. The reason Charlie faced criticism is because without revealing who those wealthy jet owner/donors were, there was no way of checking exactly what promise-for-services might have been made. Was there a quid pro quo? It felt dirty in 2009, why doesn't it feel dirty now that Charlie's a Democrat?
Charlie is quoted in the story as saying about Scott, “He’s literally flying under the radar, and he’s supposed to be the most visible public official in the state.”
Having lumped Charlie Crist in with transparent governors Bush and Chiles, Bousquet indulges Charlie's hypocrisy and dignifies his opinion by allowing him an outraged slam at Rick Scott -- I don't know, maybe in the hope readers will figure, well, if the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau puts it that way, Charlie Crist must be above the fray?
Ignore the history rewrite, the real story is here:
On March 22, 2009, under the headline "Who Buys When Charlie Crist Flies?" the Sun-Sentinel wrote that "Crist regularly flies on the private jets of wealthy businessmen ... but the governor won't disclose the details."
A day later, even, Bousquet and Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo combined on a less detailed story on the same theme, "Gov. Crist mum on private jet travel."
According to the Sun-Sentinel story, "Over the past two years, Crist's calendar shows about 100 occasions when he was scheduled to fly in or out of private air terminals to get to the capital, concerts, dinners, sporting events, political appearances and stays in St. Petersburg and South Florida.
"Crist's office would not reveal who paid for specific flights or answer questions about them, despite the governor's vow of transparency when he took office. 'Our Constitution requires that our government be open and transparent,' Crist said in his January 2007 inaugural address. 'And under my administration it will be like never before.'"
Charlie's office continually refused the newspaper an interview about it.
In those days the state had two state planes available to Crist and other high-level officials around the clock, at a cost to taxpayers of $3.5 million a year. "In the past two years, Crist has flown more than 270 times on state planes, which can only be used for government business," the newspaper said.
But there were 124 other governor flights -- most of them unaccounted for. The schedules either have Charlie arriving in short time spans at events in distant cities without any reference to a flight, or they show only a destination, time and private air terminal. All other information is listed as "TBD," or to be determined.
What's more, the governor's office swore up and down it had no records with complete flight details. I ask you, how improbable is that? How, then, did his staff and security detail know when, where and how to plan his trips in advance?
University of Florida law professor Joseph Little told the Sun-Sentinel it isn't enough for Charlie to say he follows travel guidelines and doesn't use state resources for trips that mix official, personal and political business.
"The governor should be forthcoming and explain who it was who provided these planes and what the purpose was," said Little, "or at least that there was no public business and no expectation of favors in return."
Sun-Sentinel investigators were able to track back 82 of the 124 flights. They discovered Charlie was accepting the majority of his rides from three people:
-- Dr. Steven M. Scott, of Boca Raton, founder of a large HMO and a hospital physician network. Charlie appointed the doctor to a seat on the University of Florida board of trustees.
-- Harry Sargeant, a billionaire energy and shipping magnate and a Republican fundraiser and John McCain presidential campaign bundler from Delray Beach. He was Charlie's Pi Kappa Alpha, (πΚΑ) fraternity brother at Florida State University in the 1970s. His companies had an oil operations lease at the Port of Tampa and Pentagon fuel contracts totaling more than $1.4 billion. In February 2009, one of Sargeant's corporate salesmen was indicted in Los Angeles for steering illegal campaign contributions to Crist and others.
-- Mori Hosseini, millionaire chairman and CEO of ICI Homes and major Republican Party fundraiser back when he was flying Charlie around. Charlie appointed him to the State University System of Florida, where he began his term as chairman in January. The former governor also appointed his wife, Forough Hosseini, to the Daytona State College Board.
Interesting that lower down in the Herald/Times blog, Bousquet points out that the information blacked out on Rick Scott's daily schedule -- by the way, information blacked out because of security precautions even the Florida Department of Law Enforcement advises -- is made available to press and public days later. No newspaper investigative team is needed.
Information for Charlie's flights four years ago largely stayed missing. Did he return these gifts with anything besides cash? Unless some Deep Throat comes out of the woodwork, only Charlie knows.
It strikes me that mainstreamers are going to have a lot of problems defending Charlie Crist, and you know they want to. The problem is, Charlie's foible-filled four years in the governor's office are stunningly, embarrassingly memorialized on Google.
Yes, reporters always liked his accessibility and cut him a huge break compared to Republican governors before him. But the good ones never, ever slept with Charlie Crist; they got under the covers as far as their resources would take them and wrote what they saw.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.