Enterprise Florida Has Made Mistakes, but It's on the Right Track to Make Good Things Happen
Around the State
Maybe nonprofit Integrity Florida should change its name.
Much as I disagree with Marty Dyckman's politics, I can attest to one thing about him: If he walks away from you because you've created an ethical breach, take it to the bank -- you've created an ethical breach.
Dyckman, well-respected retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times, resigned abruptly Tuesday from Integrity Florida's board of directors. His resignation followed release of an IF report scolding Enterprise Florida's for its "pay-to-play" system of awarding contracts.
Dyckman liked the idea of the report, but couldn't accept that the faux-free marketers Americans for Prosperity (AFP) went to Integrity Florida as if Integrity were a hired gun, contracting for the study to be done for a price.
It was "pay-to-play" all turned around. It was the pot calling the kettle black.
(See a copy of the Integrity Florida report, "Enterprise Florida: Economic Development or Corporate Welfare," below.)
Americans for Prosperity didn't give a no-strings-attached donation to Integrity Florida to support its government-watchdog work. They paid for a hatchet job, something they could stand behind to convince the Legislature that Enterprise Florida was as dirty as a New York street.
Dyckman told the Times/Miami Herald, "I was very deeply concerned about the idea of any special entity being able to sponsor any research. As much as I personally detest Americans for Prosperity, I would not have any grounds for objections if they accept support for the organization in general ...This creates the perception that a well-researched report is an attack by Americans For Prosperity."
In fact, that's exactly what it was.
AFP is propped up financially by David and Charles Koch, billionaire businessmen known as much for their ties with Big Oil as they are for their donations to conservative causes. What the Kochs want is less a philosophical cumbaya with a free-market philosophy. They want protection for a Big Oil market losing ground inch by inch to the emerging renewable energy market in Florida.
Ten months ago, Koch-backed AFP sent a letter to the governor seeking his veto of Florida's modest, first energy bill. The letter read, "The vast taxpayer-funded subsidies that have been pursued at the state and federal level have done little to benefit the American economy ..." Not true and the Kochs/AFP knew it. In fact, the Kochs/AFP alliance worked hard and spent big with other fiscal conservatives to stop Dems in Congress from eliminating five tax credits -- one each for Exxon, Shell, ConocoPhilips, Chevron and BP. Had they failed, it would have cost America tens of thousands of jobs.
Why, if not to grow the bottom line, are they urging anything else in Florida?
Integrity Florida claims its mission is "to promote integrity in government and expose public corruption." But by its own admission in the report's executive summary, nobody -- no company or individual -- has done anything illegal. Quite the opposite. Enterprise Florida is acting on economic development legislation passed two years ago "to create jobs for Florida families, increase capital investment in our communities and provide a significant return on the investment made by the state's taxpayers."
In a letter of response to IF, Enterprise Florida CEO and President Gray Swoope writes, "Due to our increased concerns about the independence and balance of your analysis of our economic development tools, we are requesting that you publicly post and distribute our response to your report in the same manner that you have publicized your initial report, including the aggressive actions the state has taken (and is currently undertaking) to pin down bad actors and ensure they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law, where laws are found to be violated.
"Digital Domain, for example, is currently under review by the inspector general, following Governor Scott's call."
The report was perfectly timed. Lawmakers are in the mood to get answers on where and how taxpayers' money is being spent on economic incentives. The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee approved a bill by Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando (SB 406) on Tuesday. If it goes all the way, projects recommended to receive money will face a more exacting review on the front end. That is as it should be.
Nevertheless, here's the thing: By building its case around AFP/Kochs' self-serving, drawn conclusions, Integrity Florida ultimately may have done itself more harm than good. Sadly, it also has lost one of its most reputable directors.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.