The Legislature did well in 2013 with reforms that extend a two-year ban on lobbying by former lawmakers; give additional powers to the Florida Commission on Ethics to collect unpaid fines; and prohibit lawmakers from voting on bills that directly affect their finances.
Some additional steps in 2014 that would help Florida's still-cloudy ethical climate:
» Give the Florida Commission on Ethics the authority to initiate investigations. Currently, the commission must rely on referrals from law enforcement agencies, the governor's office or the public.
» Increase the maximum penalty for ethics violations. Now the maximum fine is $10,000. Integrity Florida is calling for a maximum fine of $25,000, and the statewide grand jury report recommends $100,000.
» Give job protection to inspectors general, the state employees tasked with auditing how state agencies spend taxpayers' money. Florida Trend reported in 2009 that inspector generals are sometimes handicapped by political considerations at the agencies where they work, and even fired or asked to resign for calling attention to questionable practices. The Legislature should follow through with the grand jury recommendation to create an independent State Office of Inspector General that makes hiring decisions.
» Adopt the federal standards for lobbying disclosure. Example: When Crossroads Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm lobbied Congress in the fourth quarter of last year for AT&T, it had to disclose how much it received ($50,000), how many lobbyists helped out (five) and exactly which bills they lobbied for.
In Florida, AT&T is one of the top spenders on lobbyists, with 36 lobbying firms on its payroll, according to the state's lobbying disclosure database. But Floridians have no way of finding out which bills AT&T is lobbying for or precisely how much it is paying its lobbyists. (Lobbyists are required to report only ranges, such as $10,000 to $19,999.)
Consistent with Florida's historical embrace of transparency and open records, our state should have the same lobbying disclosure standards as the federal government.