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RPOF thrashes Keith Fitzgerald

State Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, bashed former House member Keith Fitzgerald Friday for voting on statewide budget bills without filing conflict-of-interest forms to disclose that he was an employee at New College.

But, while criticizing Fitzgerald, Thrasher didn't mention that at least five current lawmakers, including his Republican allies, voted on similar bills while working for universities.

That includes Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, a University of Florida professor who voted on several appropriations bills in 2012 but didn't file a single conflict-of-interest form.

In an e-mail that went out on the Republican Party of Florida list-serve, Thrasher hammered Fitzgerald, now running for Congress, for voting on more than $100 million in university appropriations. Thrasher's criticism came after a citizen complained to Florida's Commission on Ethics.

"I filed legislation during the 2012 legislative session that would have addressed this very problem - legislators with a vested interest positioning themselves to vote on legislation that can potentially benefit them or their employers," Thrasher said. " It isn't rocket science - citizens expect better from elected officials and it is disappointing that we find ourselves having to address this problem with individuals running for public office."

Thrasher's ethics bill failed 6-6 in the Rules Committee, which he chairs. Two of Thrasher's Republican allies were absent from the meeting and he could have tried to save the bill by temporarily postponing the vote. But he directed the committee to vote on the bill, even after he acknowledged it would likely fail.

"If it goes down, it goes down. And then you all can – whatever – we can deal with it next year or we can never deal with it,” Thrasher said in his closing remarks before the vote.

Fitzgerald's votes impacted all state entities and universities, and did not include a disproportionate amount of money for New College, according to a letter from Tallahassee attorneys Mark Herron and Melanie Leitman.

Fitzgerald did not break the rules because the votes did not lead to any "special private gain or loss to New College" or to Fitzgerald personally, the letter states.

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