Other Views from Those in the Know
Ethics Commission Should Initiate Investigations
Wouldn’t you think the Florida Commission on Ethics would have the power to initiate investigations of potential ethics violations? Unfortunately, they do not.
Currently, if a public official is suspected of violating ethics rules, a citizen must file a formal complaint with the ethics commission. Should the complaint be dismissed, the citizen complaint filer could be ordered to pay the legal fees of the public official in question if the commission determines the complaint was made with malicious intent to injure the official’s reputation or with knowingly false statements. Citizen complaints to the ethics commission totaled just 169 in 2011 down from their peak level of 295 in 2000.
Of the 169 ethics complaints filed in 2011, 68 were dismissed for lack of legal sufficiency; 2 were dismissed because they were received within 5 days of an election; 77 were ordered to be investigated; 21 were pending legal sufficiency determination at the end of the year; and 1 was on hold for criminal investigation.
From 2000 to 2010, Florida led the country in federal public corruption convictions, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. There were a total of 781 federal public corruption convictions in Florida from 2000 to 2010. That’s an average of more than one federal public corruption conviction per week in Florida during that time period.
As of 2011, 37,325 public officials were required to file financial disclosure forms with the ethics commission. That’s a lot of folks to keep track of in our state. Shouldn’t we give the job of ethics enforcement and investigation to the professional staff of the ethics commission?
The Florida Commission on Ethics has been calling on the Florida Legislature to give them the ability to start investigations of potential ethics violations pretty much since the body was created in 1974. In a March 2012 report by the Center for Public Integrity, Florida scored a failing grade for its ethics enforcement agencies and an overall C- for corruption risk. One simple step to raise Florida’s grade on this corruption report card would be to give the ethics commission staff the same self-starting power to investigate that is in place in 30 other states.
Dan Krassner is the Executive Director of Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan research institute whose mission is to promote integrity in government and expose public corruption.
Editor's Note: Rosemary Goudreau, editor and CEO of Florida Voices, is a board member of Integrity Florida.
Published Thursday, April 05, 2012