Are spouses fair game in political campaigns?

By Brandon Larrabee and Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida
Published On: Aug 06 2014 09:20:09 AM EDT
Updated On: Jun 27 2014 11:00:00 AM EDT

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (left) and current Gov. Rick Scott

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

Is the issue one of transparency, or is it about how much the public should be allowed to know about the families of those running for office?

That's the tricky question raised by the back-and-forth between Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist as the two jostle over tax returns and who should release what. Scott's campaign has hit Crist, his most likely Democratic opponent, for not disclosing the tax returns of Crist's wealthy wife, Carole.

"I can't imagine what Mr. and Mrs. Crist are afraid of if the people of Florida learn the details of their assets and liabilities, as other Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates have freely disclosed over multiple elections," Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said Thursday in a statement released by the Scott campaign.

Scott's campaign committee, Let's Get to Work, hammered home that message in a television ad released Wednesday.

In return, Crist has tried to shift the focus, blasting Scott for bringing Crist's spouse into the campaign while pledging to release more facts about his own finances than Scott has.

"It's a shameful new low in the history of Florida politics for a candidate to run TV ads attacking the wife of a candidate. ... Spouses and children are off limits," Crist said shortly after the commercial was released.

By Thursday, Crist had released his own tax returns dating back to 2001, and promised to release documents dating back to 1991. That's far beyond what Scott has released about his own finances --- but it still doesn't include disclosures about the income of Carole Crist.

The Scott campaign has pointed to then-Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink's run for governor in 2010, when she released her tax returns, as well as the tax returns of her husband, Bill McBride. And, of course, Scott has done so himself --- though it should be noted that the Scotts file jointly, making it impossible to release the governor's tax returns without releasing those of his wife, Ann.

And Scott has faced his own questions about transparency, and whether he's used the ability to shift assets into his wife's name to muddy the waters about his wealth.

When the Associated Press pointed out last year that Florida doesn't require a public official's spouse to disclose their assets, Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater gave the AP a response that sounds almost like it could come from Crist's camp now.

"The spouse is not in elected office," Latvala reportedly said.

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