A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Florida Cash Attack: Scott ‘Profiting from Porn’?


An attack ad by a corporate-backed shadow group linked to GOP candidate Bill McCollum claims his rival for the party’s nomination for governor of Florida, Rick Scott, "profited from porn." But that charge is based on a loose connection between Scott and a website’s partnership with Playboy Mexico.

The ad first appeared Aug. 6 in the "video files" of the ScottFraudFiles.com website, which at the bottom of every page states that it is a "Political Advertisement Paid for and Approved by Bill McCollum, Republican, for Florida Governor." It has been appearing on Florida television stations since Aug. 10, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, which supplies tracking information on political ads to FactCheck.org under contract.

The ad is sponsored by a shadow political committee, the Florida First Initiative, which has raised $5.1 million to date, including several large donations from business corporations. This is just the latest of several ads it has run attacking Scott.

This ad, titled "There’s Nothing Republican About Rick Scott," recycles a number of older claims about the wealthy former hospital executive. We’ve dealt with a few of those before. But the one that caught our attention this time was the statement that "[t]here’s nothing Republican about profiting from porn" — and the clear implication that Scott did just that, along with "ripping off taxpayers" and "pocketing Obama millions" and committing "criminal acts." On screen, these words appear and morph into a portrait of Scott, while the narrator concludes by saying: "There’s nothing Republican about Rick Scott."

It turns out that the McCollum campaign is simultaneously attacking Scott on a "porn" allegation. But there’s a grain of truth to that only for those willing to connect several dots in the way that the McCollum campaign wishes.

Here’s the connection, as laid out by reporter John Frank of the Miami Herald on June 16:

Miami Herald: The seemingly infinite paper trail detailing Rick Scott’s business investments now leads to Quepasa, a Latino social networking website that partners with Playboy Mexico to find the Playmate of the Year.

Scott owned a 13.8 percent interest in Quepasa in April 2010, according to SEC filings, worth about $7.6 million. The company’s connection to the adult magazine began in 2009 (after Scott was an investor) and the announcement was titled, "Playboy Mexico and Quespasa.com Get it On." They also helped pick the "Cyber Chica of the Month."

For the record, that was in the Herald’s "Naked Politics" blog. (Insert your own joke here.)

Behind the ‘Florida First Initiative’

Florida reporters seeking who’s behind the Florida First Initiative have traced connections to McCollum, who says his campaign is not involved, and Alachua County GOP Chairman Stafford Jones, who hung up on a reporter seeking information about the group. Our friends at the St. Petersburg TimesPolitifact.com site experienced similar treatment when they went looking for answers.

Florida First is organized under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, and so is required to file periodic reports of receipts and expenditures to the IRS. The most recent report was filed in July, and the group reported raising and spending nearly $2 million through June 30, 2010. In addition, Florida First has posted an unaudited listing of receipts and spending on its own website, which (as of Aug. 13) showed an additional $3.2 million in donations. In addition to listing individuals and businesses, the group reports much of its money as coming from other shadow committees. For example, $500,000 was listed as coming in on Aug. 12 from the League of American Voters, a Washington, D.C.-based group that does not disclose anything about where its money comes from, and generally does not respond to our queries.