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Friday, September 30, 2016

Promise not to laugh?

An ethics bill was passed last week in Tallahassee.

It’s no joke. The Florida Legislature unanimously approved a law designed to clean up its own sketchy act, and that of elected officials all over the state.

Gov. Rick Scott says he’s “reviewing” the bill. To veto it would be an act of profound cluelessness, but remember who we’re talking about.

The ethics legislation is significant because the concept of enforcing ethical behavior is so foreign to Florida politics. Decades of well-publicized misdeeds and flagrant conflicts of interest have failed to make a moral dent.

A few years ago, lawmakers went through the motions of establishing something called a Commission on Ethics. Most Floridians were unaware of its existence, for good reason. It was a total sham.

The panel could place monetary fines on elected officials for ethical violations, but it wasn’t empowered to collect those fines, which on paper have surpassed $1 million over the last 10 years. Nobody had to pay, so nobody took the commission seriously.

This year things changed. Senate president Don Gaetz announced that ethics reform was a top priority. His bill flew through the Senate on the very first day of the Legislative session.

The House sent it back, after some tweaking by Speaker Will Weatherford, and the new version was adopted without a dissenting vote by the full Legislature.

If Scott signs the bill into law, the Commission on Ethics will actually be able to collect the fines it imposes on wayward officeholders — even garnish their wages, if necessary.

Among other provisions, lawmakers would be banned from voting on any bills that might enhance their own personal finances. While in office, they wouldn’t be allowed to accept any government job. Once out of office, they’d be prohibited from lobbying state agencies for two years.

Such restrictions seem rather basic, even tame, until you consider that we’re basically starting from scratch. In Florida, the bar for sleazoid antics has been set very high.

The impetus for reform isn’t mysterious. As Republicans, Gaetz and Weatherford have seen their party stained by scandals.

Gaetz is from Okaloosa County, home to former House Speaker Ray Sansom. In 2010 Sansom resigned from the Legislature because of ethics complaints and an ongoing corruption probe.

Just two months ago, former GOP chairman Jim Greer pleaded guilty to five felonies, including grand theft and money laundering, in a case involving extravagant misuse of campaign funds and the party’s American Express cards.

Greer’s plea avoided an embarrassing trial that would have sent top Republican politicians to the witness stand. Having dodged that bullet, party leaders then had to watch their lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, abruptly resign after being linked to an Internet gambling cafe operation.

  • Ethic reform by the founder and former CEO of Columbia HCA, the company given the highest fine for fraud in the history of the USA, is like given the fox the keys to the chicken coop. Admittedly, this is funny, and it definitely made my day. Never “misunderestimate” the extent of Republican cynicism.

  • JDavidS

    I swear I tried not to laugh, but “ethics”, “Florida” and “Rick Scott” don’t belong in the same story much less the same sentence. Actually, it sounds like the punch line to a bad joke…

  • Allan Richardson

    All over the South, indeed all over the country, Republicans have taken up the hate, misogyny, xenophobia and CROOKED politics of the old time Dixiecrats that USED to be the Democratic party in the south. Not surprising, because the first generation of these “new” Republicans were the SAME CROOKED KLANSMEN who were in office in the 1960’s, just a new label. And the newer generations learned well from them!

    Besides, it has been observed by many political scientists that generally, states with SMALL TOWN capitals have more crooked politics than states with large metropolitan capitals, because their legislatures are under more media scrutiny. And the capital of Florida is Tallahassee, built from scratch exactly halfway between Pensacola and Jacksonville, the only big cities (in the 1840’s!). States such as Louisiana (Baton Rouge, not New Orleans; but given NO politics it might not have made a difference there), Illinois (Springfield, not Chicago), and New York (Albany, not NYC) seem to have worse corruption records than states whose biggest cities are their capitals. Georgia had the same loose ethics rules as Florida until this year, and now they are wondering how to interpret those rules. But this is despite years of media scrutiny, not because of a lack of it.

    • Michael Kollmorgen

      I’ve noticed all over this country, the smaller the town, the more corruption and outright misdeeds are done by their elected officials.

      The one-cop towns are some of the worst.

      By the way, don’t get caught doing anything wrong in them either. You might not come out alive.

      I know one such individual. He not only is the local sheriff, he is also the country coroner and owns a funeral home. He could technically kill you, justify it and cremate you the same day.

      Talk about conflict of interests……….

      • Allan Richardson

        Sounds like Andy Taylor’s evil twin!

  • tobyspeeks

    “Once out of office, they’d be prohibited from lobbying state agencies for two years.” Really? The way it should be everywhere is if you want to go into politics then you can never lobby and if you want to lobby you can never run for elected office.

  • johninPCFL

    One still wonders if Greer’s confession was paid for. Imagine Marco Rubio having to spend days on the witness stand describing how he mistakenly used the GOP credit card as his personal piggy-bank FOR YEARS before he became a US Senator, and only then had to pay all the money back. Perhaps a few of the companies on whose boards he now sits paid his bills for him…