Tucked into a bill hailed by Senate leaders as the “most sweeping ethics reform” in decades is a provision that could shield elected officials from disclosing conflicts of interest or questionable assets.
Under SB 2, which passed the Senate on the first day of the legislative session, any public official who wants to avoid disclosing embarrassing financial information on their financial disclosure forms could create a blind trust to hold their assets.
“This really would be a wolf in sheep’s clothing,’’ said Phil Claypool, the former director of the Florida Ethics Commission who retired last year. “The whole idea is to protect both the public official and the public from conflicts of interest” but under the Senate bill “you’ve just got room for all kinds of mischief.’’
The Senate bill — for the first time in Florida — provides for “blind trusts” for elected officials and was promoted as a way to help public officials “avoid potential conflicts of interest” by allowing them to hand off responsibility for investing their assets to a trustee. The idea is that an elected official would be “blind” to what he owned because the trustee would be banned from disclosing how the assets are invested.
The measure is part of a larger ethics reform package that includes new laws that would force public officials to disclose conflicts and face new restrictions on who they can work for while in office or when they retire from office.
But Claypool believes that the Senate bill essentially “stands the concept of a ‘blind trust’ on its head’’ by creating a “cloak of invisibility” in which elected officials simply “pay a lawyer to draw up a trust” and hide behind it. Story here.