April 04, 2011

Senate vote-conflict bill 'doesn't go far enough'

Prompted by a scathing grand jury report on public corruption, a Senate committee on Monday passed a bill that expands the definition of a voting conflict for state legislators. The bill (SB 2088) would prohibit a legislator from casting a vote on legislation "that would inure to his or her special private gain or loss" of the legislator or an employer, relative, business associate, or board upon which the official sits. Current law requires such conflicts to be disclosed, but members can still vote.

The Senate Rules Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections passed the bill 11-0. Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who handled the bill in committee, acknowledged a stronger law is needed. "We need to increase the standard. It probably doesn't go far enough," Thrasher said. 

Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, who voted yes, said it was still too weak because it still allows lawmakers with conflicts to participate behind the scenes to influence the direction of a bill or to engage in "arm-twisting." Dockery's bill (SB 86) contains that language, but it is not likely to pass.  "To restore faith and trust in government, I think, is very important," Dockery said. "It probably doesn't go far enough but it is a good first step."

-- Steve Bousquet

March 30, 2011

Ethics law moves in Senate, after rocky debate

Four years after she first filed the legislation, Sen. Paula Dockery's ethics bill finally got a hearing -- and a favorable vote -- in a committee Wednesday, but not before some of her colleagues voiced their displeasure with portions of the measure.

Senate Bill 86, sponsored by Dockery, a Lakeland Republican, would block lawmakers from voting on issues that would directly benefit them, their relatives or their employers. They would also have to disclose those conflicts of interest before abstaining from a vote.

Last week, the bill was unexpectedly stripped from the Government Oversight and Operations Committee agenda by the office of Senate President Mike Haridopolos without explanation. Haridopolos' office later said his chief of staff removed the proposal from the agenda because it was too long.

At the same committee Wednesday, the bill was amended -- over some senators' objections -- to allow legislators to vote on the annual state budget as long as they disclose line items that may create a conflict of interest. The state Ethics Commission will also get new authority to initiate investigations without a written complaint if commissioners sign off on the probe unanimously.

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December 08, 2010

Ethics Panel: DJJ secretary "corruptly" travelled, Rep. Jenne was sloppy

The Florida Commission on Ethics recently released its probable-cause findings, which determined that Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman "corruptly misused his position or DJJ resources to allow himself to incur excessive travel costs between St. Petersburg and Tallahassee which he charged to the State." The stories about Peterman's travel and travails are herehere and here.

And then there's the curious case of Rep. Evan Jenne, who might be the first legislator to actually overstate his wealth in his financial disclosure forms by prematurely reporting income from a consulting firm before he earned the cash. That was the subject of a multi-pronged ethics complaint filed against him in 2009 by opponent Christ Chiari. Most of the complaint was thrown out. But Jenne was a little sloppy when it came to detailing his art-and-sports-memorabilia assets. So the ethics commission found that he failed to "fully disclose assets on his 2007 Form 6 as required by the Florida Constitution. However, because the assets were sports memorabilia and a painting that were kept at his parents' home, the Commission will not take further action on the charge unless Jenne requests a hearing."

 We doubt he will.

September 22, 2010

Democrats play the culture of corruption card

Florida Democrats are planning nearly 100 events across the state on Sunday to warn voters of what Democrat Alex Sink’s gubernatorial campaign manager Jim Cassady said in an e-mail to supporters were "bold face lies" coming from Republican Rick Scott. (Sounds like the "lies" refer to Scott's latest ad.)


The door knocking and phone calling will be made on behalf of the Democrat’s slate of statewide candidates as part of a day-long effort Democrats are calling “Knock Out Republican Corruption Day.” The slick campaign literature offers head shots of the Democratic candidates while referencing the arrest of former Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer, the indictment of former House Speaker Ray Sansom, the credit card questions facing GOP U.S. Senate nominee Marco Rubio and the Medicare fraud that took place at Scott’s former hospital company.

Democrats hope they can avoid the wave of conservatism in nearly every state in the country by turning the Republicans' troubles into a motivation tool for their grassroots base. Of course, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bill McCollum wrongly thought his grassroots effort would make him the outlier in the trend of establishment candidates losing to political outsiders.

Says the Scott campaign: “Of course the Sink campaign is downplaying her role in the SBA debacle and how much was lost; this is a typical insider who knows she has failed but refuses to accept the her failure. As a former banker and current Chief Financial Officer, Alex Sink’s oversight of the SBA raises serious questions on integrity and competence.”

May 18, 2010

Rentboy scandal: Florida Democrats demand McCollum return $120,000 paid to George Rekers

Just received from the Florida Democratic Party:

In light of Attorney General Bill McCollum's role in spending over $120,000 in taxpayer money on hiring discredited witness George Rekers, today Florida Democratic Party Chair Karen Thurman demanded McCollum pay back the State of Florida for the full cost of the funds he steered towards the so-called 'expert' embroiled in the "Rentboy scandal."

Click here to read Thurman's letter to McCollum

April 27, 2010

Sansom gets love in House farewells

The members of the House's "senior class" are giving farewell speeches in the final two weeks. Beyond the abhorrent length of the goodbye remarks, it's interesting to note one name that keeps getting mentioned: former Speaker Ray Sansom.

Sansom, a Destin Republican, resigned earlier this year under the weight of a criminal probe and ethics complaint into his secret budget projects. The criminal indictment of Sansom condemned the legislative process as a whole for its secrecy and the influence of special interests.

But apparently some lawmakers see it differently. Reps. Juan Zapata, Mary Bradenburg and Baxter Troutman all thanked Sansom for his leadership and friendship. It's striking given that most House members were reluctant to defend Sansom as the criminal investigation unfolded.

On Tuesday, Troutman, a Winter Haven Republican, called the Sansom scandal an "unnecessary witch hunt."

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. 

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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.

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