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Florida: ''We're No. 1!'' for political corruption

6:59 PM, Jun 4, 2012   |    comments
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TAMPA BAY, Florida - It may seem like a different Florida political figure finds him- or herself embroiled in scandal every week. 

But in reality, it's every five days.

On Wednesday, the non-partisan watchdog group Integrity Florida will release a report identifying the Sunshine State as number one in the nation for political corruption.

From 2000 to 2010, there have been 781 federal convictions on corruption charges in Florida.  That's an average of one every five days for 10 straight years.

"The corrupting influence of money in politics is the defining issue of our time," said Dan Krassner of Integrity Florida.

Integrity Florida's report will include lapses in the laws that allow:

Furthermore, Krassner says the biggest problem is that the Florida Commission on Ethics can't launch an investigation of its own without first receiving a formal complaint.

"Florida's state ethics enforcement officers can't even start an investigation on their own," Krassner said.  "Imagine any other law enforcement officer in Florida seeing a crime in progress and not being able to pursue the suspect.  That's the state of ethics law enforcement in Florida today."

But it was the state of ethics law enforcement in 1999, too, when Governor Jeb Bush created the Public Corruption Study Commission.  Many of the group's suggestions were ignored.

And in 2010, Governor Charlie Crist commissioned a grand jury to address the corruption problem.  Among its many suggestions, some that were repeated a decade earlier, to no avail.

"Anti-corruption efforts must stop the theft and mismanagement of vital public funds," the grand jury concluded.  "Mismanagement and theft penalizes taxpayers by driving up the cost of all government services. Therefore, we call for an immediate repeal of what can only be referred to as Florida's Corruption Tax."

Yet since the grand jury's report, the legislature has done little to tackle ethics reform.

Outgoing State Senator Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, has filed ethics reform bills for five straight years.  Senate leadership has seldom given the bills a hearing.

"There hasn't been any impotence among the leadership to do anything about it," said Dockery, who is retiring after 16 years in the Capital.  "If the legislature is not going to do something to address the issue, the voters need to be better-informed before they go and cast their ballot."

Monday, on the first day of filing for fall elections, a number of local politicians have already jumped into races on platforms of ethics reforms. 

Recent scandals in Greater Tampa Bay include:

Kevin White, Hillsborough Co. Commissioner - Found guilty of bribery, sexual harassment; accused of voting conflicts

Jim Norman, Hillsborough Co. Commissioner/State Senator - Admitted he never disclosed a $500,000 gift to his wife or assets related to the deal; accused of accepting money to influence a vote and soliciting/accepting a gift from a lobbyist

Rob Turner, Hillsborough Co. Property Appraiser - Admitted to sending porn to co-worker; accused of sexual discrimination

Vern Buchanan, U.S. Congressman - Under investigation for trying to get a former business partner to lie to the Federal Election Commission, a federal ethics and House of Representatives violation.

Pat Bean, Hillsborough Co. Administrator & Renee Lee, Hillsborough Co. Attorney - Accused of state ethics laws violations in giving themselves raises without permission.

While Florida leaders may have neglected the ethics reform issue, you can report public corruption to the FBI at 1-888-722-1225.

Details regarding the various types of public corruption investigated by the FBI can be found online here.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

 

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