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Clemens asks Senate to review the 'serious conflict of interest' with staff outside employment

In a letter to the chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, is calling for legislative hearings on the revolving door that allows employees to take leaves of absence from the legislature to work for political campaigns.

In the letter to Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, Clemens called it a "serious conflict of interest when legislative employees are allowed to leave work and earn money from campaigns and/or the companies that have business before the Legislature."

"The public deserves to feel confident that special interests are not buying influence with the Legislature by contributing to the bottom line wealth of employees who supposedly earn that money after-hours,'' he wrote. "It also places the employee in an awkward position, knowing he or she may have to make a decision that adversely impacts a special interest that has contributed to the well being of their family, either directly or through a campaign account."

The letter was sent on Sept. 5, after the Herald/Times reported on a three-year arrangement Senate chief of staff Chris Clark had with Senate President Don Gaetz. Clark was given permission to work part-time for the state during the legislative session and then take a leave of absence to work on the side for campaigns. According to public records, he earned more than $400,000 in consulting fees and payroll in the same years he drew a state salary.

The Times-Union also recently reviewed public records and found that since 2008, staff members in the Legislature or the governor’s office have been paid or reimbursed $5.7 million for political work.

Clemens said the legislative review should address whether the staff salaries for people working for the Legislature are so low that it is forcing them "to look for additional outside work." But he also wants the committee to look into the  "loophole" that allowed employees to take second jobs because it "should be a serious red flag to those of us in the Legislature who care about the appearance of impropriety."

Latvala could not be reached for comment. 

The practice of legislative staff shifting from political campaigns and back into state government is so commonplace, one veteran Tallahassee lobbyist, Mac Stipanovich, evoked the classic scene in the movie Casablanca in a Tweet on Monday, (when Capt. Renault arrives to close down the gambling hall as he is handed his winnings.) "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here," Stipanovich wrote, "#casablanca#revolvingdoor."