Haridopolos to get letter, no fineby John Kennedy | February 24th, 2011
Senate President Mike Haridopolos should get a “letter of admonition” but not be fined for failing to accurately file his state financial disclosure forms for five consecutive years, the Senate Rules Committee said Thursday.
Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, didn’t attend the rules meeting. But the Republican-dominated panel took about 10 minutes before deciding the Senate chief’s fate in an 11-0 vote.
Asked if he had any second thoughts about casting a vote because he had already endorsed Haridopolos for U.S. Senate, Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said, “Hell, no.”
The Florida Commission on Ethics in December reached a legal stipulation with Haridopolos, in which he acknowledged that he filed flawed forms and later submitted amended copies of the disclosure documents.
Haridopolos failed to include a $325,000 Lake County home which he and his wife own and details about clients of his MJH Consulting firm and others he represented for Syntax Communications of Long Island, NY., which paid him $25,000 from 2004 through 2006. On the re-filed forms, he also provided more details on his assets and liabilities, which include a $1.3 million home in Merritt Island.
Haridopolos, whose primary income source was $79,000 as a visiting professor at the University of Florida, reported a $233,609 net worth last year. The complaint against Haridopolos was filed with the Ethics Commission by a voter in his Senate district, Eugene “Bucky” Benson, 79, of Vero Beach. The retired engineer said that he was unsatisfied with the settlement, saying a stiffer fine was needed to encourage lawmakers to take financial disclosure laws seriously.
In a letter to the Rules Committee, Haridopolos said his errors weren’t done to evade.
“None of these mistakes were intentional or meant to hide any personal information,” wrote Haridopolos, who has raised $1 million for his challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson next year. “To be clear, all of my income over this period was reported on the original forms. Nonetheless, I did not adequately follow the instructions on the forms that were filed and relied on forms from previous years for consistency.”
Haridopolos apologized to the Senate, and said, “I have learned from this process.”
The committee staff cited as precedent for not fining the Senate president two financial disclosure cases involving lawmakers in 2000, where admonishments were handed down, but not further penalties.
Eric Jotkoff, a Florida Democratic Party spokesman, said Thursday’s ruling showed Florida Republicans, “can’t police themselves.”
Haridopolos’ fellow Brevard County Republican, Rep. John Tobia of Melbourne, last month was found to have failed to fully disclose his personal finances on reports filed for 2007, 2008 and 2009. A freshman state senator, Jim Norman, a Tampa Republican, needed an appeals court ruling last fall to be reinstated on the ballot after a lower court disqualified him as a candidate for a flawed financial disclosure report.
Norman failed to reveal a $500,000 house listed in his wife’s name, although he later amended the disclosure to claim the dwelling.
The Ethics Commission also is considering walking away from more than $300,000 in fines owed by almost 300 former public officials who failed to file their state-required disclosure forms when they were due. Those fined have failed to respond to state requests for payment and have dodged collection agencies.
One of those on the list of officials, Joe Celestin, a former North Miami mayor, is a candidate for a Miami House seat in a special election next month.