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PSC lobbyist's case raises questions about independence of regulators

As state police investigate the Public Service Commission for possible ethics violations, an inspector general found Wednesday that the agency's lobbyist used ``poor judgment'' and may have violated rules by attending a party at the home of a Florida Power & Light executive during a pending rate case.

Although the PSC inspector general could not prove whether lobbyist Ryder Rudd broke PSC rules on gifts and communication by attending the Kentucky Derby party, a state senator and a PSC commissioner immediately called for his ouster.

``The inexcusable conduct of this employee undermines the public trust and confidence in the regulatory process and impugns the integrity of this commission,'' Commissioner Nathan Skop wrote in a statement. ``This is a clear cut ethics problem and perception issue.''

Rudd has defended his attendance at the party, saying he was ``information gathering'' -- a defense roundly rejected by state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

``He doesn't believe he has done anything wrong . . . Why are you wining and dining with an executive of a company who is asking for a 30 percent rate increase?'' Fasano said.

The report comes a day after PSC commissioners and staff director Mary Bane told the Herald/Times that commissioners and some PSC staff are being interviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for potential violations of state laws that prohibit commissioners and their staff from communicating or accepting anything of value from the utilities they regulate.Read more here.