Thou Shalt Not Blame Charlie Crist for Digital Domain
Around the State
Picture, if you will, the screaming headlines, the cries of negligence and/or corruption if it had been Rick Scott who handed 90 million taxpayer dollars to a company that went belly up three years later.
Against the advice of Enterprise Florida, the agency charged with making recommendations whether to award such grants.
Against the best practices of good government probably in any civilized democracy anywhere on Earth.
Scott already would have been paraded and pilloried on every front page from Tampa to Daytona Beach, from Jacksonville to Miami.
It wasn't Rick Scott who allegedly colluded with members of the Florida Legislature to create something called the Quick Action Closing Fund -- a fast-track to monetary, upfront job incentives.
It was Gov. Charlie Crist, Scott's predecessor.
And because it was Crist and not Scott, or any other governor in Florida's history, the Media's Eleventh Commandment kicked in:
Thou Shalt Not Blame Charlie Crist.
Where the press is concerned, Crist isn't just a guy in a suntan and a white suit. He's a little bit like a holy man. He laughs it up with reporters, he beats every rap, he's to be forgiven just about anything. Even his flip-flops are kinda cute.
He doesn't make Great Escapes from his bad decisions because a friendly Florida press defends him wildly. He does it because a friendly Florida press chooses to skip right over his bad stuff. Ignore it. Move on to something else. Write around it.
Look at the boondoggle of an Everglades land deal he struck with U.S. Sugar Corp. Look at what the repercussions of that deal have cost Florida and the Everglades and, frankly, every water management district in the state. With all the Pulitzer Prize winners in Florida journalism, it took the New York Times to come in, sort out the truth and write the definitive spellbinder.
Thou shalt not blame Charlie Crist.
Look at the mistakes in judgment over his friends. Among the most prominent were former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer, accused of stealing from the party but defended by Crist well into 2010; and convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein. Google exploratory stories on the web detailing Crist's buddy-buddy involvement specifically with these characters. There are some, not many.
Thou shalt not blame Charlie Crist.
In the case of Digital Domain -- biggest loser in the history of Florida's incentives program -- Crist had plenty of facts to make a more responsible decision. He could have listened to Enterprise Florida. He could have listened to now-former Rep. Carl Domino, R-Jupiter, who tirelessly detailed Digital's bad-risk history.
Now look: The company has filed for Chapter 11 with $14 million in debt but $50.7 million in losses through June 30. And that is after a two-year spree in which it agreed to finance a Hollywood film, open an animation studio in Port St. Lucie, help run studios in Abu Dhabi and China, and create a college in West Palm Beach to award four-year animation degrees.
Its demise has generated new scrutiny of the state's incentive programs and it could have an impact on tax credits offered in other states -- states struggling to close budget gaps. In Iowa, lawmakers suspended the state's incentive program after the discovery of fraud and abuse.
Did Charlie Crist look at Digital Domain with stars in his eyes? If he did, and should he choose to reclaim the governor's office as a Democrat, seems to me we need to find out how this squares with the voters' ideas of what a good governor is.
We're going to need all of Florida media on this one. We have to violate the Eleventh Commandment this time and start covering Charlie Crist for real.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.