Watchdog group says Florida’s disclosure laws need more workby John Kennedy | July 30th, 2012
A nonprofit watchdog organization Monday called for Florida to broaden its financial disclosure requirements for public officials, saying current law provides for loopholes that invite corruption.
Integrity Florida said state lawmakers and the Florida Commission on Ethics should model changes on the state of Louisiana, which drew a top ranking from the Center for Public Integrity in 2009 for disclosure standards enacted under Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. Florida ranked 26th in the same report.
For starters, Integrity Florida executive director Dan Krassner said state ethics officials should post disclosure forms filed by public officials annually on the internet, so citizens can easily find them.
“If something’s not online, it essentially does not exist,” Krassner said.
Integrity Florida’s push comes on the heels of the ethics commission last week acknowledging that it is still awaiting disclosure forms from more than 4,000 public officials who failed to file by the July 1 deadline.
The commission also is digging in and refusing to dismiss as uncollectible $87,000 in fines that goes back more than four years and is considered beyond the panel’s authority to pursue.
Commissioners said they are hoping the Legislature will approve a measure next spring that extends the commission’s power. Florida’s disclosure laws were approved with a 1976 constitutional amendment. But the reporting requirements for public officials have not changed dramatically over the years even as the potential methods for gaining favors or hiding corrupt gains have become more sophisticated.
Integrity Florida, however, also is recommending that the Legislature enhance disclosure requirements to include more detail on public officials’ outside employment, nonprofit board membership, more information on a spouse’s net worth and more details about clients for those officials exmployed by professional or consulting groups.
“We still need more disclosure to know,” Krassner said. “Otherwise, Florida has increased its corruption risk.”
Krassner said more detailed information also should be demanded of legislators who work for lobbying firms. Integrity Florida found 11 lawmakers employed by organizations that lobby the Legislature, including Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, a lawyer with Gunster Yoakley & Stewart, and Rep. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, employed by Weiss, Handler, Angelos & Cornwell.
Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, also lists Weiss, Handler as a secondary source of income on the disclosure form she filed earlier this month, although both she and Abruzzo also disclosed clients of the firm that have business before the Legislature.
Integrity Florida also said that lawmakers should tighten the standard for lawmakers required to disclose a possible conflict-of-interest when casting a vote. Legislators have as much as 15 days after each vote to file such disclosures with House or Senate officials. Such disclosures should be made before a vote, Integrity Florida said.
Only a dozen lawmakers disclosed 33 possible voting conflicts during the 2012 session, the organization found.