Study: Corruption Rampant in Sunshine State; Bring on Ethics Reforms

By: Jim Turner | Posted: June 6, 2012 1:10 PM
It should come as no surprise that Florida, as one of the largest states in the nation, sits atop the list for corruption.

Between 2000 and 2010, federal officials made 781 corruption convictions involving Florida, just ahead of California, Texas and New York.

Integrity Florida, a start-up nonprofit focused on ethics reforms, believes 2013 could be the year when some long-sought reforms are finally given serious consideration by state lawmakers.

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“The time has come for ethics reform in Florida; we can no longer stand for corruption at the levels we have in our state,” said Dan Krassner, Integrity Florida's executive director, during a media conference at the Florida Press Center on Wednesday.

The group held meetings with senior-level members of Gov. Rick Scott’s administration and has also worked to bring groups as diverse as the League of Women Voters and local tea parties together in support of the reform effort, Krassner said.

Integrity, which in April released a report highly critical of how Enterprise Florida operates, on Wednesday dropped a report on public corruption that claims the growing crisis, at both the local and state levels, threatens the state’s reputation, economy and ability to attract new jobs.

“This is a problem at all levels,” Krassner said.

The “Corruption Risk Report: Florida Ethics Laws” was released in advance of the state Commission on Ethics' June 15 board meeting.

“We have a corruption problem and we need to give our state ethics law enforcement officers the tools to pursue ethics law violators,” Krassner said.

The report outlines the following areas where the state needs to address its corruption problem:

-- Allow the Florida Commission on Ethics to initiate investigation instead of waiting for a complaint to be filed.

-- Establish a state corruption hotline at the state attorney general’s office or the Commission on Ethics.

-- Include private vendors handling state money to be under the state ethics codes.

-- Require top officials to disclose all personal financial transactions -- stock trades, property transactions -- worth more than $1,000.

-- Create an online filing system that can be made public.

-- Mandate Sunshine Law and public records training for all elected officials.

-- Increase the maximum civil penalty for ethic law violations from $10,000 to $25,000.

-- Improve the ability of the state to collection fines by including liens on personal property.

Krassner said the state’s top ranking for corruption is based upon Florida leading the nation in federal public corruption convictions between 2000 and 2010; a separate group called State Integrity Investigation giving the Sunshine State a failing grade for ethics enforcement; and Forbes magazine ranking three Florida cities among the top 10 in the nation for being miserable -- Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach -- with corruption as a key factor.

Latour “LT" Laffery, a Tampa attorney and former member of the Florida Commission on Ethics, supports the recomendations, but said it will take a groundswell from Floridians to move the Legislature to make the changes proposed by Integrity Florida.

“The Commission on Ethics comes up with proposals every year and every year they are summarily rejected,” Laffery said.

“The chances any of these are going to get enacted in the Legislature are pretty slim.  (Legislators) have to find the value in making life more difficult for themselves.”

Integrity Florida continues to work on reports focused on conflicts of interest by public officials and the elections commission reforms that could push for legislation that prohibits anyone from running for office if they have unpaid election-related fines, Krassner said.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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