By Ashley Lopez
According to a new study of the state’s effectiveness in enforcing laws meant to facilitate ethics in the state’s political system, Florida has a lot of work to do.
Last week, reports surfaced that the state was lagging behind in the transparency of its budget and independent spending in elections. Among these new studies was another from the State Integrity Investigation assessing the risk of corruption in every state in the country. In this report, Florida received a C-, overall.
The state ranked lowest in the areas of public access to information, judicial accountability, state civil service management, state pension fund management, political financing and lobbying disclosure– in each category Florida received a grade of D+ or lower. Florida received a flat-out F, though, for its ethics enforcement agencies.
Some facts about Florida’s current laws, unearthed in the study:
- There are no limits in law on individual donations to political parties.
- There are no limits in law on lobbyist donations to political parties.
- No state agency monitors compliance with access to information laws and regulations or independently initiates investigations. However, the governor’s Office of Open Government and The Florida Attorney General’s Office provide guidance to the public about the availability of records, but do not impose penalties.
- There are no restrictions mentioned in the Judicial Code of Judicial Conduct that prohibit state judges from setting up non-profit organizations (e.g. community groups and think tanks) that can be used to reward political supporters and/or evade campaign finance rules.
- Regulations restricting post-government private sector employment for state-level judges are “virtually non-existent.”
- There are no recusal requirements for civil service employees from decisions affecting personal interests. Such conflicts are forbidden, however, by the Florida Code of Ethics.
- There are no requirements for the independent auditing of lobbying disclosure records when irregularities are uncovered.
This past legislative session saw an attempt to change one of the ways that the state turns a blind eye to corruption. State Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, tried to pass a measure earlier this year that would ban state lawmakers from influencing legislation that could earn or cost them money. Her bill was effectively killed by leadership halfway through the session.