The governor can make his proposed recording to welcome and ask people to come back to Tampa International Airport without fear of crossing state ethics rules.
A recorded greeting from the governor for shuttle bus riders at Tampa International Airport is a political gift, but not prohibited because the value doesn’t exceed the $100 threshold that must be reported, the counsel for the state ethics commission ruled Friday.
The governor’s office requested an opinion from the state Commission on Ethics to offset any potential future claims that the public service announcement was a means to give Rick Scott valuable free publicity as he seeks re-election in 2014.
The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which oversees the airport, employs a lobbyist in the Capitol.
Chris Anderson, general counsel for the commission, said the airport announcement should be seen as a gift from one governmental agency to another for the benefit of the state.
“This is good, this is what the governor ought to be involved in, but you have to work it through the law,” Anderson said. “I think by necessity these have to come on a case-by-case basis to the commission.”
Despite the opinion, commissioners questioned what the ruling could mean for other elected officials who regularly appear at welcoming events and groundbreakings.
Commissioner Edwin Scales, an attorney from Key West, questioned why Scott’s message wouldn’t be any different than the exposure that Attorney General Pam Bondi will get next week when speaking before the Florida Bar at its annual convention.
“There are so many examples of when mayors or public officials give greetings and welcomes, there is always PR for a person giving the greeting ... that the gift laws and scrutiny by the ethics commission is troublesome to me.”
Commissioner Morgan Bentley, a Jacksonville attorney, posed whether President Obama would have to disclose as a gift the time he receives on national TV when giving the State of the Union.
However, Anderson said not every action by a political figure needs to be reviewed, but the commission can’t simply dismiss any time a group provides a politician a platform through public relations.
Anderson pointed to the 2005 ruling by the commission that declared a proposal by BellSouth Telecommunications Inc. to use state lawmakers to make public-service announcements promoting an affordable telephone service for low-income people was, despite being a “worthy cause,” the equivalent of being given “free exposure.”
There is always the chance, Commission Chairman Robert Sniffen agreed, for orchestrated efforts in key counties where a politician needs a boost, where operatives could flood the area with public service announcements regarding economic development or other topics.
The governor’s recorded greetings, expected to include such phrases as “Tampa Bay is a great place to live, work and play,” and “We hope you’ll return soon,” are expected to start airing this summer, in time for the Republican National Convention.
Reach Jim Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 215-9889.