Dan Krassner: Promise delivered on ethics reform
Published: Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 5:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 5:43 p.m.
Lawmakers are beginning the process of cleaning up the government and restoring trust with Floridians. Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford promised sweeping ethics and campaign finance reform and they have delivered.
After a 36-year drought, Florida lawmakers should be commended for advancing good government reforms in our state Capitol. Integrity Florida is grateful to see most of our research recommendations included in the ethics and campaign finance legislation that has been passed. While there is still more work to do to make ethics laws stronger and to fix a broken campaign finance system, Florida is finally moving in the right direction on these issues.
The ethics reform legislation (SB 2 and SB 4) would give the public four new ways to start ethics complaints through U.S. Attorneys, State Attorneys, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and the governor's office. Those four entities could refer credible complaints to the Florida Commission on Ethics. While not the full self-initiation of investigations that the ethics commission should have, this process is a good step to fight corruption and to reduce frivolous complaints. Integrity Florida encourages U.S. attorneys, state attorneys, FDLE and the governor's office to create report corruption hotlines to collect anonymous tips from the public to address public corruption.
Also included in the ethics bills, financial disclosure forms will be posted online in a searchable database for the public to access. The Florida Commission on Ethics will begin moving towards an electronic filing system for financial disclosure to make the process smoother for filers and to provide better quality information for the public in an easier to read format.
The legislation requires more ethics training for public officials. Fine enforcement will be enhanced by allowing the ethics commission to garnish wages of officials owing fines to the commission and it extends the allowed collection period from four to twenty years.
Voting conflict standards and disclosures have been strengthened. The proposal improves revolving door rules to limit legislators from lobbying for two years after they leave office. New restrictions are also included to prohibit officials from obtaining crony jobs based on their public office.
The campaign finance legislation (HB 569) raises contribution limits from $500 to $3,000 for statewide candidates and to $1,000 for legislative and local candidates. The bill requires 24-hour disclosure of contributions and expenditures in the final days of state-level campaigns and a more rapid filing schedule for campaign reports year-round for candidates and committees. The measure streamlines independent committees by eliminating committees of continuous existence. In addition, it would direct the Florida Division of Elections to create an enhanced statewide campaign finance database.
By prioritizing ethics and campaign finance reform for the 2013 legislative session, President Gaetz and Speaker Weatherford, along with Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith and House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, demonstrated 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 appointee to the Florida Commission on Ethics, along with Florida Commission on Ethics Executive Director Virlindia Doss should be recognized for working tirelessly with lawmakers on ethics reform. Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chair Sen. Jack Latvala and House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee Chair Rep. Jim Boyd both worked in a constructive, bipartisan fashion with their Democratic counterparts Vice Chair Sen. Eleanor Sobel and Ranking Member Representative Janet Cruz, to bring their colleagues together behind these reforms. Rep. Mike Fasano fought until the end for additional protections for the public to be included in the ethics reform initiative. Rep. Rob Schenck led the way on the campaign finance bill, which is a good start for attempting to fix a broken system through more transparency and accountability.
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. We look forward to Gov. Scott signing these reforms into law so that Floridians will see major gains towards achieving this vision.
Dan Krassner is executive director of Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog.