TALLAHASSEE, Florida -- Florida is the most politically corrupt state in the country according to a Corruption Risk Report released this week by the nonprofit corruption watchdog group Integrity Florida.
Florida led the U.S. in federal public corruption convictions from 2000 - 2010 according to U.S.Department of Justice data. Corruption was a top ten factor Forbes magazine pointed to in 2012 when it named three Florida cities to its list of America’s Most Miserable Cities: #1 Miami, #4 West Palm Beach and #7 Fort Lauderdale.
"Florida faces a corruption crisis that threatens the state’s reputation, its economy and its ability toattract new jobs and capital," The Report said. "While implementing the ethics reform solutions presented in this report may not decrease the number of corruption convictions in Florida, it would certainly help the state move towards an A grade on the Corruption Risk Report Card and begin to improve the state’s reputation at a time when there is significant competition for jobs."
The report offers major recommendations that would advance government ethics in Florida and the public's overall confidence in state and local government if adopted by the Florida Legislature:
1. Self-initiate investigations:
As the state ethics law enforcement agency, the Florida Commission on Ethics should be granted the authority to begin its own investigations.
2. Launch a report corruption hotline:
Report corruption hotline to be managed either by the Florida Attorney General or the Florida Commission on Ethics.
3. Expand the ethics code to follow the money:
Appropriate aspects of Florida’s state ethics code should apply to all who touch public money, including vendors.
4. Require top officials to disclose major transactions:
Require all cabinet officials, state legislators, state agency heads and local elected officials to disclose details of all major financial transactions over $1,000 within the previous year, including stock trades,property transactions and changes in business ownership.
5. Create an online filing system:
Financial disclosure forms should be filed electronically and made publicly available online in a searchable, updatable and downloadable format.
It also offers recommendations the Florida Legislature could adopt that would improve the current state of the ethics laws without major changes to the system"
1. Raise the standard for awarding attorney's fees against complainants.
2. Change the burden of proving a violation from "clear and convincing evidence" to a "preponderance of the evidence."
3. Require ethics training for public officials, government vendors and lobbyists.
4. Increase penalties for ethics law violations.
5. Improve collections process for fines owed due to ethics law violations.
6. Post all core Ethics Commission documents into an online, searchable database.
7. Build an online, searchable database of financial disclosure information.
8. Require annual audit of a random sample of financial disclosure forms.
The Report notes that the public corruption conviction data included in this report is from a time period prior to Governor Rick Scott taking office. Governor Scott issued an executive order on his first day in office declaring that "a commitment to ethics and integrity in government is essential to maintaining a public trust.”
In the same executive order, Scott directed his Special Counsel, in conjunction with his Chief Ethics Officer, to review the Statewide Grand Jury's December 29,2010 First Interim Report addressing public corruption in Florida and “recommend a plan for implementing all or certain of, as advisable, these recommendations either through executive action, or through legislative proposals seeking necessary statutory modifications.”