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Florida gets a grade of “D” on legislative financial disclosure

Last year Integrity Florida released its Corruption Risk Report on legislative financial disclosure in the sunshine state. According to the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), Florida earned a D grade, ranking 26th in the U.S. for legislative financial disclosure in 2009. Louisiana ranked No. 1 on CPI’s disclosure ranking, up from 44th in 2006.

Florida voters adopted the “Sunshine Amendment” to the state constitution in 1976 after then Governor Reubin Askew led a petition drive to place the amendment on the ballot. After a series of political scandals, including one involving his own lieutenant governor, Askew felt strongly that financial disclosure for public officials was necessary “to restore the confidence of the people.” The Sunshine Amendment passed with over 79% of the vote.

Bobby Jindal worked with his state legislature in 2008 to pass new ethics laws that moved their state from the bottom to the top of the list. Louisiana Economic Development, that state’s counterpart to Enterprise Florida and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, touts ethics reform on its website. Gov. Jindal said he set out to “completely transform the ethics laws in (his) state to encourage increased business investment and job creation”.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Louisiana has maintained a lower unemployment rate than Florida every month from January 2008 through June 2012.
The clearest way to see where Florida needs to go to improve its financial disclosure ranking is to compare the 2011 financial disclosures of Gov. Jindal and Florida Gov. Rick
Scott. Financial disclosure information required in Louisiana but not in Florida includes:

  • More detailed outside employment information
  • Nonprofit board memberships
  • More detailed financial disclosure information from spouses
  • Income from government and gaming interests
  • More details about clients from professional or consulting services
  • All financial transactions exceeding $1,000
  • Government staff campaign contributions to public officials that employ them

According to the Center for Public Integrity, 27 states put financial disclosure filings of state officials online, but Florida does not. Integrity Florida has posted the personal
financial disclosure filings from 2011, 2010 and the first term in office for Florida’s legislators and top state officials on its website. Integrity Florida also put
online disclosures of potential voting conflicts from the 2012 legislative session, disclosures of legislators working for firms with clients before state government, disclosures of gifts received by legislators and top state officials and lists of individuals who have not filed financial disclosures and fines owed to the Ethics Commission.

The reports key findings were:

  • The median net worth of all Florida legislators increased by approximately 15-percent from $507,846 in 2010 to $583,461 in 2011.
  • 11 legislators worked for lobbying firms during the 2012 session.
  • 12 legislators disclosed a total of 33 potential voting conflicts in 2012.
  • More than $100,000 in gifts reported by legislators and top state officials in 2012.
  • Four legislators failed to disclose 2012 financial interests as of July 26, 2012.
  • 4,284 current Florida public officials and employees failed to disclose 2012
  • financial interests as of July 26, 2012.
  • 66 current and former Florida officials and employees owe a total of $87,199.03 in fines for late filing of financial interests in past years as of July 9, 2012.

Governor Scott has worked to improve legislative financial disclosure. To view the 2012 financial disclosures of Florida’s state elected officials go here.

Milton Friedman wrote, “Most of the energy of political work is devoted to correcting the effects of mismanagement of government.”

The sunshine state isn’t as sunny as Louisiana when is comes to legislative financial disclosure.