With almost no discussion, the Florida Commission on Ethics accepted a de facto guilty/no contest plea from Senate President Mike Haridopolos over his failure to properly fill out his financial disclosure forms over a period of five years. Download Stipulation
But due to constitutional rules, the commission can't set a fine or penalty, so the Senate's Rules Committee, chaired by Haridopolos friend and appointee, Sen. John Thrasher, must decide a penalty. Thrasher said he'll ask veteran legislative staffer/Florida historian/Rules staff director John Phelps to research the matter and make a recommendation to the full committee.
Haridopolos' lawyer, Pete Dunbar, says Haridopolos shouldn't pay any more money. "The embarrassment is enough." Dunbar noted these were "clerical errors" by Haridopolos, who failed to list addresses and, on a few occasions, failed to disclose income to his consulting business, MJH Consulting.
Just before Haridopolos' case, the commission slapped a $3,000 fine on South Palm Beach Mayor Marty Millar for allegedly misusing his official position during a strip club altercation at Rachel's "to intimidate or impress a club manager and police officers to secure special privilege and benefit . . . for himself.” Dunbar said Haridopolos' case is completely different because the senate president didn't misuse his office. He just failed to fill out forms properly.
Dunbar pointed out that, as soon as the complaint against Haridopolos was filed by Vero Beach retiree Eugene "Bucky" Benson, Haridopolos corrected his forms and didn't fight the commission.
In an email to reporters, Benson had little good to say about the process. He accused Haridopolos of being "deliberately devious" in his complaint. And he thinks the ethics process isn't much better:
"The biggest farce in the world is that Dec.3 Ethics Commision session. The Florida legislature snookered Florida taxpayers into thinking that it governs "in the sunshine" and the Ethics Commission is the taxpayer's watchdog. A former Commission Chairman characterized the Haridopolos non-compliances as minor bookkeeping errors.
"Firstly: anyone who challenges a legislator's financial disclosure is immediately disadvantaged by the following statute: 34-8.009 Amended Filing.
"(1) A person may amend his or her full and public disclosure of financial interests to add to or modify the information reported on the form as originally filed at any time after filing the disclosure form. The amended filing shall be filed with the same office where the original form was filed and shall be on the form prescribed by the Commission, CE Form 6X, adopted by reference in Rule 34-7.010, F.A.C.
"Amended filing is precisely what keeps Haridopolos from any penalty, even though his non-compliances were patently fraudulent, devious and 5 years in the making.
"Secondly: The disclosure form (Form 6) requires sworn statement as to the verity of information provided; 5 years in a row Haridopolos "swore" that his information was truthful and complete. Elsewhere in the statutes is the following:
"Section 817.155, Florida Statutes, states that it is a third-degree felony to sign a document he or she knows is false in any material respect.
"Strangely, 817.155 does not apply to Legislators and Ethics Commission personnel - unless some lawyer attempts to prosecute such personnel under that statute.
"Unknown to average citizens, Florida lawmakers are raking in millions in special interest political contributions through Committees of Continuing Existence. No oversight by anyone!
"The NY Times reported (12/13/08) that Florida was the most corrupt of 50 states analyzed for the period 1997-2000, with 824 officials found guilty in federal courts; Texas was second with 704.
"A Press Journal Opinion (11/10/10) identified the Florida Legislature at a rank of 26 in the Center for Public Releases Report of 2009; i.e.- 25 states were better and 24 were worse in their financial disclosure activities.
"No further comments are needed."