Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos was formally admonished by his own Rules Committee on Thursday for failing to accurately disclose his finances on state ethics forms.
The committee’s decision was instantly bashed by Democrats as a “whitewash” because the Republican leader, a candidate for U.S. Senate, wasn’t fined for failing to properly detail his investments, a $400,000 home and a consulting job that earned him $120,000 from 2004 through 2008.
But the committee -- whose members were all tapped by Haridopolos – said he didn’t deserve a fine because the errors weren’t intentional and he owned up to the mistakes when the Florida Commission on Ethics brought the matter to his attention.
“In view of the inadvertent nature of these violations, Senator Haridopolos’ admission of error and his subsequent submission of required corrections, the Rules Committee recommends to the Senate that a letter of admonishment from the Rules Chair is an appropriate level of penalty,” read the consent decree, which was unanimously approved Thursday by the Rules Committee.
The committee chairman, Sen. John Thrasher, said the committee’s decision to admonish Haridopolos was based on two similar cases from 2000 involving two Florida House members who improperly filled out their financial disclosure forms.
Like those representatives, Haridopolos apologized in writing for his actions, which he has described as sloppy.
“While these errors on my forms have been easily corrected, I take this situation very seriously and will embrace whatever is deemed to be the appropriate penalty,” Haridopolos wrote. “I accept responsibility for these errors and apologize to the members of the Florida Senate. I have learned from this process and have gained a greater respect for the need for elected officials to remain diligent in their efforts to be transparent with the public.”
But the man who discovered Haridopolos’ shoddy disclosure forms, Vero Beach resident Eugene H. “Bucky’’ Benson, said the Senate president got off too lightly. He noted that Haridopolos, a college lecturer as well as Senate President, should have been more diligent about following the state Constitution, which requires full and accurate financial disclosures.
“When a college professor says he didn't read the instructions - and he just kept using his original unopposed form as a template - he is unfit to be a college professor,” Benson said in an email. “When a politician says he didn't read the instructions, he may be telling the truth: BUT - he, too, is unfit to be in a seat of power. And, when a "politician turned college professor" says those same things; he is unfit to hold either position.”
Democrats piled on by calling for Thrasher and Miami Sen. Anitere Flores to recuse themselves from the rules committee because both have endorsed Haridopolos’ U.S. Senate campaign and therefore had a conflict of interest.
Flores said she had a duty to vote on the matter and had no conflict. Thrasher was more blunt about whether he should have stepped down.
“Hell no,” he said.
Here's his apology: Download Haridopolos_letter_rules