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New Senate prez poses ethics reforms

by Dara Kam | October 16th, 2012

Senate President Don Gaetz is exploring a sweeping ethics proposal that could do away with political committees used by legislative leaders, bar elected officials from getting second jobs outside their fields of expertise and strengthen conflict of interest disclosure for state senators.

The Niceville Republican said Tuesday he’s considering changes to campaign finance laws that might eliminate “committees of continuous existence” while increasing the amount of money individuals can contribute to political campaigns, now capped at $500.

Gaetz, who officially takes over his chamber after the November election, told reporters he hasn’t drafted a bill yet for the 2013 legislative session but wants to strengthen ethics laws not only for the legislature but for other elected officials, including school board members. Gaetz formerly served as the superintendent of schools in Okaloosa County.

Gaetz said he’s also considering putting public officials’ financial disclosures online in a way that’s easy for the public to find.

Read about Gaetz’s preliminary ideas about an ethics package after the jump.

-Committees of continuous existence:
Unlike candidate’s political campaign committees, the CCEs can take unlimited amounts of money. And the laws regarding the CCEs are looser regarding how the money can be spent, raising questions about how some lawmakers use the funds to pay for things like rent, gas, cell phones and meals that may not be specifically campaign-related.
“I don’t think it provides as much transparency as an individual contribution does,” he said.
Doing away with the CCEs might require lifting the $500 cap on individual contributions, Gaetz suggested.

_ Co-employment of public officials:
Gaetz said that public officials shouldn’t be allowed to take a second job because of their elected position if they don’t have any experience or expertise in that area.
“I’m talking about somebody who may have had absolutely no background whatsoever in a particular area. And they get elected to the county commission and suddenly because they are making decisions or they are appropriating money in that area, suddenly they miraculously become an expert and get hired on as a consultant or a management position from some public entity that is benefiting directly from that public body,” Gaetz said. “This is going to have to take a great deal of work…but it’s an area that even though it may be touchy it’s an area we ought to explore.”

_ Senate conflict of interest rule:
Senators do not have to disclose a potential conflict of interest until after they vote on a bill that may benefit themselves or a family member. House members have to disclose conflicts of interest prior to voting on bills.
“At the very least we ought to do that,” he said.

_ Financial disclosures:
Tracking down elected officials’ financial disclosures is like “a treasure hunt,” Gaetz said. Legislators and the governor and Cabinet, along with candidates for those offices, have to file financial disclosure forms with the Florida Commission on Ethics. The disclosures aren’t available online but are available upon request.
“I think it’s important for people to know what I owe, what I own and where I’m getting my income,” he said.

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