Florida gubernatorial candidates are now taking shots at each other’s wallets in campaign commercials, with Democratic challenger Charlie Crist working overtime to get voters to realize that millionaire Gov. Rick Scott is, in fact, a millionaire.
"He flies on a private jet and owns an $11 million oceanfront home," an Oct. 24, 2014 ad says. "Rick Scott is used to the finer things. Maybe that's why he spent $800,000 of your tax dollars upgrading the Governor's Mansion."
The commercial then repeats a lot of prior attacks about education spending. Meanwhile, we got to wondering whether Scott, who campaigned in 2010 on cutting government spending, spent $800,000 on his new home in Tallahassee after taking office.
Ringing up the renovations
As the basis for the claim, the Crist campaign sent us an Oct. 28, 2013, Associated Press story posted on CBS Miami’s website. That story said that more than $800,000 in renovations had occurred at the governor’s Greek Revival mansion at 700 N. Adams St.
Those renovations included cleaning oriental rugs, refinishing wood floors, "new wallpaper, pillows, furniture, drapes, paint, window repairs, new screens for the swimming pool and an upgraded kitchen," the story read.
According to the story, the state spent almost $3 million on the property during Gov. Jeb Bush’s eight years in office, although a third of that money was for security upgrades after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The story said that during Crist’s four-year term from 2007-2011, the state spent a bit more than $27,000. The AP later corrected this amount to almost $443,000.
Of the $800,000 the AP said was spent during Scott’s term, almost $600,000 was taxpayer money that went to grounds upkeep, the story said. More than $200,000 more was donated to the Governor’s Mansion Foundation by U.S. Sugar, Florida Crystals and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida. There were also $20,000 in gifts from lobbyist Brian Ballard, Scott adviser Tony Fabrizio and the CEO of a private prison company, George Zoley.
That private money was used to pay for things like $38,000 in new rugs and $2,000 for a new mirror for First Lady Ann Scott, who had been an interior designer, the AP story said.
For this fact-check, we won’t look at private donations, because Crist said "your tax dollars."
The Scott campaign said the mansion has routinely been funded by both public and private money, and that the public money involved was used according to state law. It paid for things like code compliance in the kitchen, repairing safety hazards in public areas, electrical upgrades and plumbing repairs, spokesman Greg Blair said.
We checked in with the Department of Management Services, the agency that handles expenses for upkeep. Spokesman Ben Wolf told us that the DMS has a budget for mansion projects, and periodic fixes are needed. He declined to be more specific for us.
He did give us totals for renovations, maintenance and purchases made for the mansion’s improvements using public money, but we found some numbers were a bit different than what the AP reported in 2013.
From January 1999 to December 2006, Jeb Bush’s terms in office, the total was $2.87 million, including post-Sept. 11 security upgrades such as buying surrounding property and putting up barriers.
The total from Crist’s term, January 2007 to December 2010, was almost $443,000, including almost $254,000 for heating and cooling ductwork and $102,000 for the design and installation of a "fuel cell" designed to cut emissions and power use. Adding in miscellaneous purchases like tools, supplies, building materials, freight and so on, the total went up to almost $628,000.
As for Scott, the DMS disclosure said a little more than $499,000 had been spent for the things Blair claimed. Although that measured more than just 2011, that year is when the bulk of the expenses were incurred. (We’ll also note that more than $10,000 in tax money was spent on cabana repairs.) Add in other expenditures, as we did with Crist and Bush, and the grand total from January 2011 to the present is almost $745,000.
In 2013, the Department of Management Services said the agency had reviewed the mansion and decided it needed some freshening, without Scott’s input. Scott’s office said then that neither the governor nor the first lady asked for the changes, but the AP reported that May 2011 meeting minutes from a Governor’s Mansion Committee gathering showed Ann Scott had mentioned the house’s condition.
"It’s important to me to maintain its beauty and showcase its history, making the mansion a welcome destination for all guests," she said.
We also tried contacting mansion curator Carol Beck several times, but never heard back. She was quoted in the AP story as saying Department of Management Services officials "have been exceptionally proactive in addressing concerns of the first lady and myself as it relates to the current condition of the interior and exterior of the mansion proper, as well as the grounds."
This wasn’t the only time spending on the manse has been an issue. In 2011 and 2012, staffers were instructed to use private phone lines and email accounts while working to find about $5 million in public and private money to buy commercial property around the mansion and turn it into a public space.
Crist said Scott "spent $800,000 of your tax dollars upgrading the Governor's Mansion."
When we checked with the agency in charge what the totals were, it said almost $745,000 in taxpayer money had been spent during Scott’s term. So the amount of tax money spent on renovations at the mansion is close.
However, the ad is trying to make it sound like Scott was being wasteful, and that's not as clear. The Crist and Bush administrations also spent large sums on expensive renovations, and the money doesn't appear to have come from a direct request from Scott (although the Scotts did accept donations to spruce up the mansion). We rate the statement Half True.