By Dan Krassner, special to the Times | Tampa Bay Times In Print: Monday, November 19, 2012
Dan Krassner Of Integrity Florida
The new leaders of the Legislature, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, have called for sweeping ethics and campaign finance reform. Are the stars aligned for Floridians, after a 36-year drought, to finally see ethics reform taken seriously in our Capitol?
By prioritizing ethics and campaign finance reform for the 2013 legislative session, Gaetz and Weatherford are already demonstrating a level of responsiveness to Floridians that has been missing from the Capitol for years. Matt Carlucci, a Jacksonville businessman and Gov. Rick Scott’s recent appointee to the Florida Commission on Ethics, is also working tirelessly with lawmakers on ethics reform.
Gaetz, Weatherford and Carlucci have outlined a range of policy proposals that could improve Florida’s 18th in the United States ranking on a national report card published by State Integrity Investigation. On the index produced by Global Integrity, the Center for Public Integrity and Public Radio International, Florida received failing marks for ethics enforcement and a D-minus grade for political financing. On the same report card, Florida received its only perfect score for an open and transparent redistricting process that was led by Gaetz and Weatherford.
In an era of fierce competition for jobs and capital, government in Florida must become the most open, ethical, responsive and accountable in the world. Florida put in place innovative good government policies in the 1970s under the leadership of Gov. Reubin Askew that were replicated by other states and Congress. As the 22nd largest global economy that will soon become the third largest state in the United States, it is time to re-establish Florida’s brand as a super state for open government and ethics. The good government policies being considered by state lawmakers would put Florida on the global map for ethics, transparency and accountability, if passed.
Gaetz has proposed putting an important component of the Sunshine Amendment online for the public to access — disclosure of the private financial interests of public officials. He also wants to reduce voting conflicts and ensure lawmakers do not unfairly obtain crony jobs funded by the state budget that they pass. Gaetz and Weatherford both want to eliminate secretive campaign PACs called committees of continuous existence (CCEs).
Weatherford wants to see a move toward more candidate accountability for political contributions and expenditures. That might involve allowing candidates to take larger checks, but Weatherford would ensure 24-hour disclosure of contributions. Floridians should welcome the combination of quicker disclosure with candidates themselves being more responsible and accountable for a greater share of the existing money in state politics. Imagine candidates being held accountable for their own ads.
Carlucci is prioritizing fine enforcement to ensure government employees and officials pay the fines they owe for filing late financial disclosure statements. The ethics commission should gain the authority to impose liens to collect fines owed, according to Carlucci. He is also calling for the Legislature to allow the ethics commission to receive case referrals from state attorneys and law enforcement agencies. Carlucci also proposes using the same voting conflict standards for state and local appointed officials and removing intimidating deterrents to citizen ethics complaints.
Gaetz, Weatherford and Carlucci should be commended for taking on these tough issues. The level of difficulty to pass meaningful ethics and campaign finance reform remains high. The momentum of the statewide movement for ethics reform helped get these issues on the agenda, but we must keep the calls to action coming until reform is passed.
Dan Krassner is the executive director of Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute and government watchdog whose mission is to promote integrity in government and expose public corruption. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.