Crist, Scott TV battle heats up

Charlie Crist, left, and Rick Scott have traded barbs on the airwaves. (AP, Times file photos)
Charlie Crist, left, and Rick Scott have traded barbs on the airwaves. (AP, Times file photos)

With TV ad spending in the gubernatorial campaign exceeding $50 million last week, there’s obviously no shortage of claims for PolitiFact Florida to check.

But just how truthful are claims about Gov. Rick Scott and challenger Charlie Crist on the airwaves? Lucky for voters, we’ve been hard at work to find out.

The Republican Party of Florida has been airing plenty of ads on behalf of Scott, especially one about Crist’s relationship with convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein. In one that has aired more than 4,000 times, an unidentified narrator says he was "swindled" by Crist.

"Scott Rothstein swindled a lot of people, me included," the person said in the ad, which was intended to help Scott’s campaign. "He bankrupted many families. Nobody was closer to Rothstein than Charlie Crist. Rothstein was always around Charlie, throwing parties and giving Charlie money. Rothstein bragged that he gave Charlie Crist money so he could pick judges. Of course Charlie took the money. I got swindled by both Rothstein and Charlie. If Charlie Crist will sell judgeships, everything is for sale."

We’ve checked some Rothstein-related claims before. A prior ad from Florida’s Republican Party claimed Rothstein bought judicial appointments from Crist. We rated that Half True, because Rothstein clearly had donated to Crist (and other politicians) and was appointed to a judicial nominating committee, although there was no proof Rothstein had any undue influence in blind ballots choosing judges.

Crist then accused Scott and Rothstein of having "teamed up" to disparage him, but we found that one False. While Scott and Republicans were using Crist’s relationship with the attorney to attack him, there was no proof Rothstein and the current governor had ever truly crossed paths or coordinated efforts.

The mystery narrator in the most-recent commercial was identified as Fort Lauderdale investor Dean Kretschmar, who had not named the former governor in a lawsuit against Rothstein. Even Scott backed off claims about the advertisement. The state GOP has doubled down on the use of the word "swindled," but we ruled the attack that Crist had swindled anyone like Rothstein did Pants on Fire!

Meanwhile, Crist has a new ad attacking Scott on education funding, saying the governor cut spending by more than a billion dollars while laying off teachers and letting class sizes balloon. Scott did work with the Legislature to cut the education budget by $1.3 billion in 2011, and about 1,405 teachers left Florida schools, but that number was total departures, not just for layoffs.

Class sizes did go up by about 1 percentage point, but rules have changed and there have been multiple district and state factors involved. Due to those omissions and the fact that the ad fails to address Scott’s full tenure we rated it Mostly False.

Democrats also are hitting Scott’s positions on women’s issues. Crist said Scott had supported letting employers deny women access to birth control. Scott has largely been silent on the issue, but we found two statements that showed he did not support the federal government dictating to companies they must cover birth control, so we called the claim Mostly True.