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Integrity Florida Releases Research Report on Florida Ethics Laws

Integrity Florida, the nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog, released a new report today that examines Florida’s ethics laws and measures recent anti-corruption reforms against established benchmarks. The report finds Florida is making progress in the fight against public corruption, but much more remains to be done.

Ethics reforms that were passed in 2013 and 2014 represent the first significant attempt to update the state’s ethics laws since the 1970’s and since the 2012 publication of Integrity Florida’s 2012 report titled Corruption Risk Report: Florida Ethics Laws. That report analyzed federal public corruption conviction data and found that Florida led the nation in corruption convictions from 2000 to 2010. The new report finds Florida is now ranked number three for public corruption convictions behind Texas and California.

“Florida went too long neglecting public corruption and ethical abuses and its citizens have paid a real price for corrupt government practices that have cost taxpayers’ public funds and damaged the state’s reputation” said Ben Wilcox, Research Director for Integrity Florida. “We’ve made progress and the legislature will have the opportunity to act on more anti-corruption solutions in 2016.”

Key Findings

  • Florida is no longer number one in federal public corruption convictions for the ten-year period from 2003 to 2013, the most recent data available. While Florida is still in the top five states ranked at number three with 622 convictions, Texas is now number one with 870 convictions, followed by California at number two with 678 convictions. Federal public corruption convictions in Florida have flattened out and appear to be trending downward.
  • In the 2015 update of the 2012 State Integrity Investigation, Florida’s overall grade for the 14 categories measuring government accountability fell from a C-minus to a D-minus. Florida’s grade was lower in virtually every category measured except in “Ethics Enforcement Agencies.” In that category Florida went from an F grade to a D-minus.
  • While a few of the recommendations of the Nineteenth Statewide Grand Jury
    have been adopted, the majority of those recommendations have never been considered by the Florida legislature.

Policy Recommendations

Ethics Reform/Anti-Corruption legislation that has been filed that would reduce corruption risk if passed in 2016 include:

  • Senate Bill 582/House Committee Bill by the Rules, Calendar and Ethics Committee: These bills would put into law two anti-corruption recommendations that were in the 2010 Nineteenth Statewide Grand Jury Report.
  • Senate Bill 686/House Bill 593: Titled the Florida Anti-Corruption Act of 2016, this an omnibus ethics reform measure that includes the provisions in Senate Bill 582.
  • Online financial disclosure filing system: Create an online, publicly accessible filing system for financial disclosure statements for state and local officials as envisioned in the plan submitted by the Commission on Ethics to the Florida legislature.

Additional Ethics Reform/Anti-Corruption policy solutions that could be enacted to advance government ethics in Florida include:

  • Increase penalties: Increase the maximum civil penalty for violations of ethics laws from $10,000 to $20,000 as recommended by the Florida Commission on Ethics.
  • Self-initiate investigations: Allowing the Commission on Ethics to self-initiate investigations would be the single most effective change in the ethics laws that could be made, both in terms of actually enforcing the law and in terms of public confidence in government.
  • Require all Elected Officials to file Full and Public Financial Disclosure (Form 6): All constitutional officers in Florida are currently required to file Full and Public Financial Disclosure known as Form 6. Many other elected officers, including city officials, are only required to file the less-informative Form 1, known as Disclosure of Financial Interests.
  • Improve fine collections: The problem of officials who fail to pay the automatic fines they receive for failing to file financial disclosure is well-documented. Allowing the Commission to record its final orders as liens on the debtor’s real and personal property would give them another tool to collect unpaid fines.
  • Raise the standard for awarding attorney’s fees against complainants: This would restore the law on recovery of attorney fees to the way it had been construed by the Commission prior to a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal; that Complainants are held to the same standard applicable to media publications regarding public figures. Under that standard, the Ethics Commission awarded attorney’s fees only against complainants who maliciously and knowingly filed complaints based on false information.
  • Change the burden of proving an ethics violation from “clear and convincing evidence” to a “preponderance of the evidence.”

Read the full report here.

ABOUT INTEGRITY FLORIDA

Integrity Florida is a nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog whose mission is to promote integrity in government and expose public corruption.  More information at www.integrityflorida.org. Download Florida’s Path to Ethics Reform.

Integrity Florida calls for Investigation of Enterprise Florida

Dan Krassner, Co-Founder and Executive Director Integrity Florida, and Ben Wilcox, Research Director Integrity Florida, in an email state, “The lavish travel and wasteful government purchasing practices of Enterprise Florida, a taxpayer supported entity serving as the privatized commerce department for the State of Florida, was detailed in an investigative report by Michael Buczyner, WPEC/CBS 12 titled ‘State-run agency accused of abusing taxpayers dollars‘ on February 25.  The Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) is responsible for the state’s contract with Enterprise Florida, but it has clearly turned a blind eye to this waste and abuse of the taxpayers’ money.”

“Enterprise Florida travel guidelines do not comply with official state travel restrictions, even though the entity is using taxpayer funds allocated by the state legislature.  According to an internal audit prepared on March 15, 2012 by McGladrey, only three Enterprise Florida executives, Secretary of Commerce Gray Swoope, Chief Operating Officer Griff Salmon and Chief Marketing Officer Melissa Medley, all former employees of the Mississippi Development Authority, gained ‘unlimited signing authority’ on February 7, 2012, to execute contracts and make significant purchases of non-economic development goods and services,” note Krassner and Wilcox.

Since the new authority was granted to these top three executives at Enterprise Florida, here is a sampling of the organization’s questionable expenses:

  • Nearly $22,000 spent on New York Yankee Luxury Suites and related purchases.
  • More than $13,000 spent at the San Diego Zoo.
  • $12,000 spent on Texas Rangers baseball.
  • More than $7,000 spent at Cowboys Stadium.
  • More than $4,000 spent on Atlanta Braves baseball.
  • More than $4,000 spent on limousine services.
  • Nearly $3,300 spent at Truluck’s Seafood Steak & Crab House in Austin, Texas.
  • More than $2,500 spent at the 21 Club.
  • More than $2,000 spent at 4Rivers Smokehouse.
  • More than $1,300 spent on a charter fishing boat.
  • Roughly another $30,000 per month spent on American Express credit cards for unknown expenditures.
  • Thousands more on airfare, luxury resorts and hotels, expensive meals and limousine services.

The people of Florida deserve accountability and transparency within every aspect of our government.  Given the appearance of impropriety, an inspector general report is needed to determine whether the taxpayer resources that support Enterprise Florida are properly protected and whether corrective action is needed.  A company this large, supported by hard-working Florida families, must be held to the highest ethical standards.

Additional Resources:

Integrity Florida letter to Governor Rick Scott “Eliminate government waste at Enterprise Florida, investigation needed” (read more)

“State-run agency accused of abusing taxpayer dollars” Story by Michael Buczyner / CBS 12 NEWS (read more) (watch video)

Enterprise Florida Internal Audit by McGladrey – March 15, 2012 (read more)

Enterprise Florida, Inc. Vendor Payments – January 1, 2012 to August 28, 2013 (read more)

Enterprise Florida receives more than 97% of its funding from taxpayers (read more on page 24) (watch video starting at 1:00:20 about an hour into the video)

  • $57.4 million total 2012-13 budget for Enterprise Florida
  • $56 million (97.6%) in government/public/taxpayer-funded sources
  • $1.4 million (2.4%) from the private sector

Bipartisan efforts to hold Enterprise Florida accountable with bills filed for the 2014 legislative session:

  • Applies state ethics code to Enterprise Florida staff – CS/SB 846: Governmental Ethics GENERAL BILL by Senate Ethics and Elections Commission; Senator Jack Latvala (read more)
  • Strengthening Enterprise Florida disclosure practices and fiscal accountability SB 1270: Economic Incentive Programs GENERAL BILL by Senator Eleanor Sobel (read more)
  • Strengthening Enterprise Florida disclosure practices and fiscal accountability HB 1103: Economic Incentive Programs GENERAL BILL by Representative Jose Javier Rodriguez (read more)