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Nancy Smith

Jack Latvala's Do-As-I-Say-Not-As-I-Do Ethics Bill

April 2, 2014 - 6:00pm

The ethics guru of the Florida Senate is unlikely to promote a bill that would put himself out of business, but in all good conscience, he should.

Jack Latvala's SB 846, which just passed the Senate, expands Florida's ethics laws to promote transparency, accountability and ethical behavior among lobby-minded officials in local governments.

Among everyone, that is, but himself.

The bill doesn't extend to any area of government where Latvala would have to comply.

Yet, federal disclosure documents show the Clearwater Republicanwas paid more than $600,000 over the past six years to lobby for defense appropriations for a pair of nonprofits -- a diabetes-research institute and the fundraising arm of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. That includes the years since his re-election to the Senate in 2010. (See Latvala documents from OpenSecrets.org here and in the attached spreadsheet below.)


Latvala would be the first to tell you there's no law against legislators working as federal lobbyists.

A year ago Aaron Deslatte, Tallahassee bureau chief for the Orlando Sentinel, wrote in considerable detailLatvala's lobbying story, "Senator backing lobbyist restrictions is lobbyist himself."So, this isn't exactly breaking news.

At the time the senator told Deslatte,"There's no prohibition I'm aware of on making a living while I'm up here. It [Washington lobbying] doesn't have a darn thing to do with anything I do up here."

But it has plenty to do with what Latvala does in Tallahassee. And here's the connection the Sentinel story didn't make:

Latvala, who served in the Senate from 1994 to 2002, returned again in 2010, just in time to win appointment to the Senate Redistricting Committee. In fact, he chaired it. As such, he had a huge public role in redrawing Florida's congressional districts.


"I guarantee you, these Congress people come into the committee's offices begging and pleading for redistricting considerations," a South Florida political consultant told me Wednesday." Jack Latvala would have had a very public role in the future of each member of the Florida congressional delegation."

The same Jack Latvala who would turn around and lobby these "begging and pleading" members of Congress again as soon as Tallahassee business ended.

You think it's never dawned on him that this is a conflict of interest? Or, at least, the perception of one?

While the Florida senator -- 2013 and 2014 chairman of his chamber's Ethics and Elections Committee -- did disclose his income and contracts on his state financial-disclosure form,he has certainly kept the "L" word under wraps as it relates to himself.

His state financial-disclosure form filed in 2012 lists his direct-mail printing business, GCI Printing Services; his political consulting business, which helps manage campaigns for fellow Republicans; and Jack Latvala Inc., as his primary sources of income that year. The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis is named as a client, but nowhere does it state Latvala is a lobbyist for the fund.

And, oddly, Latvala skips right over the lobbying career -- a big part of his life -- in his Wikipedia bio.

The reason I bring this up now is because of an interview Integrity Florida's Dan Krassner gave to Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers last week. It made me think how crazy the Latvala situation is.

In assessing the senator's ethics bill, SB 846, the executive director of the government watchdog organization, said,The current proposal is a one-way ban."

He said, "If legislators want a lobbying ban on local officials, they should apply the same rule to themselves. If its unethical for a local official to lobby the Legislature, then lawmakers should lead by example and put the same restrictions on themselves. Lawmakers should be consistent and fair. There shouldnt be a different rule for the Legislature.

Krassner is so right. SB 846 has passed the Senate. But, frankly, it needs more work. To be fair and ethical, somebody needs to save Latvala from himself. This is a bill that needed one more amendment.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. en.

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