Ave Maria developer pays Rick Scott 'hush money' to stay out of genetics lab controversy

religion | Oct 25, 2010 | By Marielena Montesino de Stuart

At a time when candidates across the United States are passionately expressing their rejection of corporate welfare and bail-outs, Florida's Republican gubernatorial candidate, Rick Scott, has chosen a Swiss neutrality, regarding the Jackson Lab proposal, which could involve millions of taxpayer dollars for the establishment of a non-profit genetics lab in the town of Ave Maria, in Scott's very own home turf of Collier County.

The majority of Collier County citizens oppose public funding of this lab. This is reflected in a Naples Daily News public poll, which shows that 84 percent of responders do not want any taxpayer money to go to the Jackson Lab. The Letters to the Editor of the Daily News is also a living testament of the overwhelming public rejection of the Jackson Lab proposal.

The Jackson Lab's controversial involvement in holding workshops and providing resources for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research is also a serious concern for those who stand in defense of human life. Rick Scott's neutrality regarding the Jackson Lab is perplexing, to say the least, considering that he is running as a pro-life, fiscal conservative "outsider" and "businessman".

Add to this the fact that many Collier County citizens see the Jackson Lab deal as nothing but a corporate bail out of pizza tycoon, Tom Monaghan, and Barron Collier Companies' real estate venture in Ave Maria -- a town in Southwest Florida's Eastern Collier County, founded in 2007, under a controversial "Special District" government.

The Naples Daily News ran a column on Thursday, October 21st, covering Rick Scott's visit to Arthrex, a manufacturer of surgical devices, located in Naples. The president of Arthrex strongly opposes the Jackson lab deal. The Naples paper described how Rick Scott "claimed not to know the particulars of the Jackson Lab and wouldn't comment specifically on it." If this is true, Mr. Scott is undermining his candidacy as governor of Florida, for failing to be informed, and for failing to take a stand on the biggest taxpayer scandal in Collier County history. But there is more to this story.

Money talks

Given Mr. Scott's wealth and ability to finance his own way to Tallahassee, one would think that corporate special interests would not stand between him and the taxpayers. But, alas, could the October 12th and October 22nd fundraiser, be the cause of Mr. Scott not knowing the particulars of the Jackson Lab deal? After all, passionate Jackson Lab supporters from the powerful Barron Collier, Ave Maria special interest camp acted as hosts at these fundraisers. 

Did Blake Gable, a Barron Collier Vice Presidentm listed in the October 12th fundraiser as a member of the Host Committee, fail to provide Mr. Scott with sufficient information about the Jackson Lab deal in Ave Maria?

Could the latest fundraiser, held on Friday evening, October 22nd, be contributing to Mr. Scott's neutrality? The VIP reception at $10,000 per couple, was held at the home of Ned and Cindy Lautenbach, in Naples. Lautenbach is an influential businessman, who has acted as Advisory Partner at Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, a private equity investment firm specializing in management buyouts. Lautenbach has served as a Director of Sony Corporation and Eaton Corporation. Forbes also lists Lautenbach as chairman of the Independent Trustees of the Equity and High Income Funds of Fidelity Investments.

Another high profile member of the October 22nd Host Committee is the Honorable Tom Grady, member of the Florida House of Representatives, who is involved in the House's Economic Development Policy Committee. Mr. Grady serves in other committees, including the Finance & Tax Council, and acts as Vice Chair of the Insurance, Business & Financial Affairs Policy Committee. Other prominent business and political leaders also appear as hosts of these fundraisers.

Yet, in spite of the militant Jackson Lab supporters, as well as the business and political leaders surrounding Rick Scott at these fundraisers, Scott claims to be unfamiliar with the particulars of the Jackson Lab deal. How is the public supposed to believe this? Isn't this a disregard of many taxpayers who have supported Mr. Scott's previous statements opposing the Jackson Lab, not to mention his claim of being a fiscal conservative?

How can Mr. Scott claim to be neutral on the Jackson lab matter, when four of the five Collier County Board of County Commissioners have refused to allow the citizens of his very own county, the right to vote on the subject of taxpayer funding for the Jackson Lab? Is Mr. Scott unaware that the Jackson Lab deal has become a taxpayer scandal in Collier County?

It must be noted that a distinguished Catholic resident of Naples, the Honorable Francis L. Rooney, former Ambassador to the Holy See, under George W. Bush, is also listed in the Host Committees for both the October 12th and the October 22nd fundraisers. One can only hope that during these soirées, Ambassador Rooney whispered a few words of wisdom into Mr. Scott's ear, based on the Catholic Church's opposition to Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research (HESC)– a pro-life position not exclusive to Catholics. Why? Because Mr. Scott has said that he is pro-life-- and as indicated at the beginning of this article, the Jackson Lab is involved in the world of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research. But there is more.

Is Rick Scott listening?

Not far from this very exclusive fundraiser, the overwhelming rejection of the Jackson Lab project rages on. But it seems like Mr. Scott may have failed to listen to the opinion of another experienced former businessman: His Excellency, Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of the Diocese of Venice in Florida, who issued the following statement on July 23, 2010, through the diocesan spokesman:

"Jackson Laboratory's purported association with and openness to human embryonic stem cell research causes the Diocese of Venice concern. Of particular note is a public statement made by the company that they are "not willing to rule out doing human embryonic stem cell research" (Naples Daily News, April 10, 2010) "…as is well known, since work on human embryonic stem cells involves the destruction of innocent human life, the Church does not approve of such research."

Rick Scott's neutrality on the Jackson Lab issue became known when I spoke with him on September 18, 2010 in St. Augustine, Florida. During our conversation he insisted that he had not taken a stand on the Jackson Lab in spite of what he told a crowd of supporters in Naples, just before they were headed to vote in the Primary Election.

On August 22, 2010 the Naples Daily News published a story titled "Naples' Rick Scott, candidate for Florida governor, speaks out against Jackson Lab deal at hometown meet up." The following are excerpts from the NDN story:

Rick Scott entered a Naples restaurant and pub filled predominantly with his supporters and took a stance against Jackson Labs. Previously the candidate was somewhat unclear about his views on the proposal.

The Jackson Labs deal doesn't look to be the answer, he said on Sunday night.

It was standing room only at Mulligan's Sports Grille in Naples near the Coastland Center mall as Scott, who began with his somewhat vague and noncommittal stance on the Jackson Labs proposal in Collier County finished his sentence saying it looked to be a bad deal for taxpayers.

Regarding similar deals across the state, including U.S. Sugar and the Tri-Rail project, Scott began on Sunday as he had throughout the campaign: "Spend capital where you're going to get a return on investment."

"Would we do this with our own money?" he asked the crowd.

After a resounding "no" from many of the hundreds of partakers in the meet and greet, Scott then said:

"The way I look at all these projects, is that there is not a good return, so I wouldn't support it," he said.

Scott also doesn't support the use of stimulus money, on which Jackson Lab is contingent. 

On August 23rd, following the NDN article, I spoke with Rick Scott's campaign spokeswoman, Jennifer Baker, regarding Mr. Scott's stance on The Jackson Lab proposal having been described by NDN as "previously somewhat unclear." Ms. Baker offered the following statement, which was published on August 24, 2010 in TheRomanCatholicWorld.com and Spero News.

"This was the first time he [Rick Scott] was asked [about The Jackson Lab proposal]. His comments last night speak to what he thinks about the Jackson lab deal. This has not been a major issue in the campaign, so we do not talk about it every day. The Naples Daily News quote, I think, very clearly articulates his position on the deal. I think that Rick's statement is very clear as to where he stands on the issue. It's very clear what he thinks about the deal."

If Mr. Scott is genuinely seeking election as a conservative Republican governor he must do so while consistently and openly preserving conservative values. Scott's constant request to be held accountable can only be granted by the people of Florida if he takes a solid stand on issues. Voters expect more than short, dismissive and neutral answers to crucial questions. 

The Jackson Lab scandal is a microcosm of the state of our government because it smells of corruption, corporate welfare and disregard for the innocent unborn.
Neutrality will never solve these problems.

Marielena Montesino de Stuart writes for www.TheRomanCatholicWorld.com



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