Bobby Jindal’s Financial Disclosure Reform Right for Florida, Says Ethics Group
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Integrity Florida released a 26-page report Monday that highlighted the potential risks in Florida’s current personal financial disclosure rules for state lawmakers.
Among Integrity’s findings:
• During the 2012 session, 11 legislators worked for lobbying firms.
• A total of 33 potential voting conflicts in 2012 were disclosed by 12 legislators.
• Legislators and top state officials reported more than $100,000 in gifts in 2012.
• As of July 26 this year, 4,284 current Florida public officials and employees failed to disclose 2012 financial interests..
• As of July 9 this year, a total of $87,199 in fines for late filing of financial interests in past years is owed by 66 current and former Florida officials and employees.
• The median net worth of all Florida legislators increased by approximately 15 percent, from $507,846 in 2010 to $583,461 in 2011.
When it came to questionable actions by a particular lawmaker, Integrity Florida leaders said it's up to citizens to decide based upon the information they are making available.
“I believe Florida has increased our corruption risk by being a state that allows our legislators to be on the payrolls of lobbying firms,” said Dan Krassner, Integrity Florida's executive director, on Monday during a media conference at the Florida Press Center in Tallahassee.
Florida also allows lawmakers to vote in matters where they have a potential conflict of interest and not report the conflict for 15 days.
The report, which provides an update on legislators' net worth from 2010 to 2011, doesn’t pinpoint potential corruption but makes a call for lawmakers to reduce the potential for corruption.
Jindal’s ethics reform platform included:
• Prohibit elected officials from lobbying, consulting or representing clients before state agencies.
• Prohibit candidates for elected office from using campaign dollars to pay family members.
• Increase the frequency of reporting by lobbyists and require disclosure so the public “knows exactly who is hired, for what specific reason, under what contractual provisions and at what cost.”
• Make all ethics filings immediately available on the Internet. There is no requirement in law for electronic filing of personal financial disclosure reports and no provision for it.
• Improve the governmental ethics training program for all state employees and require passage of a test on ethics laws before any new employee starts a job or receives a paycheck.
• Ensure criminal charges are brought against any willful or fraudulent violation of the ethics code.
View the report here.
Krassner said one of the best ways to improve financial reporting would be for Florida to adopt the changes made in Louisiana since 2008, where every transaction above $1,000 must be reported, as well as membership on nonprofit boards, the finances of one’s spouse, and details about clients involved in professional and consulting services.
“The Center for Public Integrity gave Louisiana, after Governor Jindal’s reform, a No. 1 rating in the nation,” Krassner said. “Florida is No. 26.”
Louisiana had been ranked 44th on the list as recently as 2006.
Other recommendations include:
• Potential voting conflicts should be disclosed in advance of all votes.
• The Florida Commission on Ethics should randomly audit a sample of public officials’ financial disclosure forms each year.
• The grace period for late filers should be shortened from two months to one month, after the July 1 deadline, before fines begin to accrue.
Krassner added that better financial-disclosure reporting can also help in job creation based upon U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics that Louisiana has maintained a lower unemployment rate than Florida every month from January 2008 through June 2012.
The report is a follow-up to Integrity's efforts on the need to enhance the power of the Ethics Commission, including getting the power to initiate its own investigations.
On Friday, the commission announced that 4,284 public officials in Florida failed to submit their 2012 disclosure forms by the July 1 deadline.
Phone calls and certified letters will be sent to those who have yet to file advising them that $25-per-day fines start Sept. 4.
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.