Lagging in Polls, McCollum Turns Up the Heat on Scott
With polls continuing to show him trailing GOP rival Rick Scott, Attorney General Bill McCollum last week launched his strongest attack yet on Scott’s past, implying for the first time that the Naples businessman might have been personally guilty in a fraud scandal at the company he used to lead.
Scott has bristled at having to answer questions about his former company, Columbia/HCA Healthcare, and what his role was in a fraud scandal that ended with the company paying a record $1.7 billion in fines and settlements for Medicaid and Medicare fraud. Scott also had to leave the company. Scott has answered those questions largely by saying the company made mistakes – but noting that he was never charged with any wrongdoing.
While McCollum has repeatedly tried to taint Scott with the link to his company’s fraud, he came close on Thursday to actually saying that Scott was criminally complicit – and raised the prospect among the state’s frequent-voting elderly population that they were victims.
“He ran a company that he was personally responsible for, that created perhaps the most massive fraud against senior citizens, against Medicare, in our nation’s history,” McCollum said when asked about a new poll showing Scott ahead by more than 10 points. “Fifty-five hospitals were raided by the FBI. Rick Scott was fired by his board of directors, they forced him out within a short period of time after those raids occurred for a reason.
“He might have even been guilty of the crimes that were involved in it,” McCollum said, raising the allegation of direct criminal involvement by Scott. “I don’t know. He wasn’t charged, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t (guilty).”
McCollum’s remarks came as a new Quinnipiac poll showed Scott still up by 11 points.
McCollum also turned on its head conventional wisdom among political pundits – that he is plagued by being an insider in a year favoring outsiders and bristled at the notion expressed in the poll that Scott appeared more conservative to respondents.
McCollum said there’s no way for people to know that because Scott has no record, unlike McCollum, who has a record voters can examine. Scott just has ads, McCollum said. He also tried to turn his insider image to his advantage, saying that he’s the one who has been endorsed by leading conservatives – not Scott – pointing to endorsements McCollum has received from Republican icons like Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich, as well as mainstream conservative organizations like the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
The Scott campaign responded that the strain of being behind appears to be getting to McCollum.
“Bill McCollum has come unhinged from reality,” said Scott campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Baker. “He continues to repeat the same desperate attacks in spite of the fact that his eight weeks and $8 million of negative ads have been rejected by voters.”
Scott has positioned himself as an outsider and said that in business he has created jobs.
With McCollum’s effort to portray the Medicare and Medicaid fraud that Scott’s company was engaged in as a crime against “senior citizens,” rather than against the government, it raised the stakes even more. Seniors are a key voting block, and on more than one occasion campaigns have made calls to older voters with vague, scary references to politicians targeting them.
McCollum stopped short of saying Scott was going after them – but clearly was trying to get the fraud connection to resonate more than it has with that key group.
“This is taking taxpayers’ money, senior citizens’ money, in huge numbers,” McCollum said. “He wants to cover that up.”