TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Republican who pledged to spend millions of dollars in personal funds to defeat Florida Sen. Rick Scott was once barred from the vote in Georgia after a judge became “concerned” about discrepancies regarding his eligibility to run for the Statehouse seat.
Keith Gross, a lawyer and businessman, has said he is willing to spend up to $30 million to defeat Scott in the 2024 GOP primary. He has already spent nearly $850,000 on personal loans and donations, according to recently released campaign finance reports. Gross, 40, is its largest donor, with his own contributions dwarfing the roughly $26,000 in outside money he reported.
“When I look at my opponent’s last five years in the U.S. Senate, he made a lot of good speeches but didn’t accomplish much,” Gross said this month in a speech to the Women’s Republican Club of Naples Federated Naples, a city that Scott is one of its residents. A Republican activist shared a recording of the event with NBC News.
Gross — who did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment — was relatively unknown in Florida political circles until he challenged Scott in the spring and began bragging about his ability to self-finance his campaign, but he’s not a complete newbie of politics. Gross’ attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In 2008, at age 24, Gross ran as a Democrat for an Atlanta-area legislative seat. That campaign was marred by allegations that he lied about his eligibility to run for the seat. A resident of the district filed a complaint in early 2007 questioning whether Gross had lived in Georgia for two years or in the House district for one year, as required by the state.
After the hearing, an administrative law judge said he was “troubled” by Gross’ statements and allegations and ruled against him.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, at a news conference at the Capitol on Jan. 25.Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images file
“The Court … is troubled by the otherwise uncorroborated statement by Defendant himself of his residency in the State of Georgia for the period of time required by the Constitution of the State of Georgia,” Georgia Administrative Law Judge Michael Malihi wrote in the July 2008 decision. “In clarifying the questions of the defendant’s domicile, the court shall take into account the defendant’s manner of giving evidence, his intelligence, his means and ability to know the facts about which he testified, the nature of the facts, about which he testified, the likelihood or unlikelihood of his testimony takes into account his testimony, that interest or lack of interest, and his personal credibility.”
“The preponderance of the credible evidence is that defendant has failed to establish GA’s two-year residency requirement,” the decision continues.
Karen Handel, a Republican who was then secretary of state, accepted the decision and Gross’ name was removed from the vote.
Malihi’s 18-page ruling contained a number of inconsistencies: Gross was “evasive and unable to provide information” when he declared Georgia his residence, and he testified that he had a Georgia driver’s license in 2005 when he actually had a driver’s license for Florida He held a license until May 2007 and during that time he certified that he was a resident of Florida. Gross also said he did not know whether he paid Georgia income tax in 2006, and that he received mail to several Washington, D.C., addresses in 2005 and 2006.
“Respondent Keith Gross is not qualified to run for House District 80 and his name should be removed from the ballot,” the decision concludes.
The judge also noted that Gross did not register to vote in Georgia until November 2007. Florida records show Gross last voted in the state in 2020, but there is no record of him being registered in the state since then.
Gross is considered an underdog in the race against Scott, a former two-term Florida governor who enjoys significant support within the state’s GOP base.
But Gross took an aggressive approach early on, criticizing Scott for failing to accomplish anything in the Senate, he says, pointing to political ads in Iowa that Scott funded in early 2020 as evidence that he wanted to use the seat, to run for president and fired shots Scott penned an 11-point plan to “save America” that sparked an open feud with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“I don’t need an 11-point plan to save America,” Gross said in his speech in Naples. “The only thing we need to save America is to get Washington out of our lives.”