April 22, 2010

A first for a politician: overstaing wealth

This is a first: the Florida Ethics Commission slapped state Rep. Evan Jenne for overstating his wealth on his personal disclosure form. So much for the days when the politicians tried to hide wealth.

The commission said Jenne, D-Dania Beach, didn't properly list assets and income but it took no action "because his errors ... amounted to over-reporting income, household goods and personal effects, and were not for the purpose of concealing or misrepresenting his finances."

But Jenne's issue is nothing compared to the situation of Mark Lee, the fire chief of the Florosa Fire District in the Panhandle who allegedly "misused his position to manipulate the complainant's work schedule to allow him to have an extramarital affair with the complainant's wife." The commission found no probable cause of the charge.

In other rulings, the panel dismissed a complaint against State Surgeon General Ana Viamonte Ros over her $130K travel tab in three years on the job. The commission concluded her personal time at home was “concomitant” (had to use the dictionary for that $4 word; substitute “incidental”) to her official travel. The commission also said its job is not to decide if her events are “worthy” of her attendance.

April 02, 2010

CFO Sink calls for special prosecutor to investigate GOP

Democrat CFO Alex Sink sent a letter to AG Bill McCollum (her gubernatorial rival) asking him to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate criminal activity at the Republican Party of Florida concerning former Chairman Jim Greer. This is the only way to avoid a conflict of interest, her letter states.

"It is only through a completely independent investigation that Floridians can have confidence that any criminal activity that may have occurred in the Republican Party will be properly addressed,” Sink said in a statement. “We need an independent prosecutor leading this investigation, and not a Cabinet agency.”

The request from Sink's office mirrors the one earlier in the week from Democratic Party Chairman Karen Thurman. McCollum played a key role in helping to oust Greer. When the party presented him with the latest audit showing the party paid a shell company Greer secretly owned, McCollum asked FDLE to investigate.

March 31, 2010

Here it is: the secret severance offered to Greer

The state Republican Party is denying the severance agreement (download here) with Jim Greer is valid, saying the former chairman didn't sign the documents. Greer's attorney contends otherwise in a letter to the party written Tuesday (download). But what is lost is the fact the party offered him a severance and the party treasurers offered to absolve him, despite previous denials to the contrary. 

Continue reading "Here it is: the secret severance offered to Greer" »

The Greer fallout leads to divergent reactions

Amid the fallout that Jim Greer, Charlie Crist's handpicked party chairman, is facing a criminal investigation, the speculation is rampant about how this will affect the political dynamic on the campaign trail.

Florida political consultant Rick Wilson said this would void Crist's ability to attack GOP U.S. Senate opponent Marco Rubio as a corrupt big-spender when Greer, his close friend, "used the party like his own ATM."

"Charlie is at the minimum going to be on the witness stand in this affair," said Wilson, who is supporting Rubio.

Continue reading "The Greer fallout leads to divergent reactions" »

March 19, 2010

House dismisses rules complaint against Saunders

An rules complaint against state Rep. Ron Saunders, a leading Democrat from Key West, was dismissed by the House Rules Chairman Bill Galvano this week.

Tea Party activist James K. Barnes filed the rules complaint and two ethics complaints against Saunders earlier this month.

Galvano said the complaint was insufficient because it wasn't made under oath, didn't meet time limits and provided inadequate evidence.

March 18, 2010

House GOP votes against disclosing credit card purchases

House Republicans just voted down an amendment to a campaign finance bill that would have required leadership funds to file reports showing each credit card purchase. The language -- which is the source of much recent controversy -- was tucked at the end of an amendment, offered by Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, a Sarasota Democrat. It failed on a party line vote 42-69.

UPDATED 11:15 a.m.: The House passed the bill 73-42 after the GOP leadership withstood a dozen amendments offered by Democrats to provide more transparency and limit the influence of money. Despite this, Republican supporters labeled the measure (HB1207) a "transparency" measure and refuted that it created leadership funds -- until Democrat Rep. Rick Kriseman read the old law and the new law, showing them identical. Three GOP lawmakers did defect from the party-line debate to vote for an amendment that would have required callers conducting push-polls to identify their organization.

March 03, 2010

Leadership funds begin to re-emerge

With all the problems in how political parties spend money, top Florida lawmakers are one step closer to getting the power to raise unlimited contributions and direct how the money is spent.

But don't call them leadership funds -- which were previously banished -- call them APCs. (Yes, one more acronym in a town that speaks only in capital letters.) It stands for affiliated party committees, which is, in essence, a leadership fund.

The language creating these APCs is attached to a bill that fixes the law concerning ECOs -- Electioneering Communication Organizations -- which was struck down in a court decision as unconstitutional. Without regulation, we are currently in "the wild wild West," said bill sponsor Rep. Seth McKeel, a Lakeland Republican, pointing to the recent special election in the Jacksonville area. 

Continue reading "Leadership funds begin to re-emerge" »

February 22, 2010

John Thrasher's goodbye RPOF Amex Gift

So before a conflict of interest could arise, St. Augustine Sen. John Thrasher stepped down from chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee when he was chosen as the head of the Republican Party of Florida this Saturday.

But three days before he left the Senate post, Thrasher presided over the committee when it gave RPOF (and anyone else with a political credit card) a nice fat gift: A clear exemption from having to report "a copy of each credit card statement which shall be included in the next [campaign finance]report..." [paren mine].

That language actually exists in statute. Thrasher's committee bill strikes it out.

But it was already nullified by a curious 2005 Division of Elections opinion that essentially said "each credit card statement" didn't need to be "included" because because it would be too difficult to include the statements via the state's electronic campaign-finance filing system. Apparently, the government system didn't have a function to accept PDFs. Yeah, PDFs are so hard to post.

Like this one: Download De0507.

It's the actual division opinion in question that you, dear viewer, are seeing electronically and that we downloaded from the division's own website. Whodathunk? Interestingly, it was the Florida Democrats who set this all in motion by actually requesting the division opinion. And it's not as if all the credit card information isn't online; the parties report aggregate sums in their expenditures on the division's website and list other expenses under the tab "other disbursements." Still, the actually credit-card bills don't line up with the reported totals.(The committee packet is here and the language in question is on page 196 of 207, or page 33 of 44 of the bill).

Anyway, lawmakers never raised a stink about an executive order from an appointed official trumping the plain language of state statute. So the political parties were free to just report aggregate sums, and not the "individual" reports.

Then came Ray Sansom's shopping spree and Delmar Johnson's spending binge at RPOF on the party's American Express cards.

**Update: Thrasher said this blog post unfairly ascribed "scurrilous motives" to him. "I take offense," Thrasher said.

He said the bill wasn't his. Rather, it was Secretary of State Kurt Browning's bill. Asked if he could have changed the language in question, Thrasher said members of the Legislature could change it if they wished. He said the language was "a technical change." 

Asked if he supported the language ensuring that political parties wouldn't have to disclosure the individual credit-card bills, Thrasher changed the subject to his amendment that helped disabled voters. Now that he's party chair, does he support releasing the credit card bills of yore? Thrasher said he'd decide later.

Q: Do you realize you haven't answered the question and that this will be reflected -- just a heads up?

A: "I have plenty of heads-ups these days. I have to go," Thrasher said.

The two men who pushed Thrasher to become RPOF chair, future House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, have both said the problems at RPOF have underscored the need for more "transparency." Both have refused to release their statements or call on others to do so. Senate President Jeff Atwater is waffling as he, too, talks about the need for more "transparency."

Transparent indeed.

January 27, 2010

Crist appoints 3 to Commission on Ethics

Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday made three appointments to the nine-member Commission on Ethics, the agency that is asking the Legislature for more authority to investigate ethical wrongdoing by public officials. 

These picks have been a long time in coming: their terms expired seven months ago, in June of 2009.

Crist reappointed Roy Rogers, 72, of Lighthouse Point and named two new members: retiree Ivan Ford, 73, of Vero Beach succeeds Linda Conahan, a lawyer from Boca Raton, and Crist replaced Larry Handfield of Miami with Susan Maurer, 53, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer. Maurer is a law partner of Tom Panza, a well- known lobbyist and Democratic fund-raiser for many years in Tallahassee.

A fourth lame-duck ethics commissioner, Albert Massey of Fort Lauderdale, remains on the panel. Massey and Michael Joblove of Cooper City bring to four the number of ethics commissioners who live in Broward, currently viewed by many as Florida's most ethically-challenged county. 

-- Steve Bousquet

December 14, 2009

Toothless ethics commission is seeking fangs

Criticized as a toothless tiger, the Commission on Ethics wants more authority to investigate and punish wayward officials in Florida.

The watchdog agency wants to seize the moment at a time when a string of scandals has seized public attention and a statewide grand jury is launching a major public corruption inquiry.

But only the Legislature can expand or restrict the commission's powers. Legislators have long been wary of giving the agency more clout, partly out of a fear that it would lead to witch hunts aimed at lawmakers themselves. Read story here.