Integrity Florida unveils possible lawmaker conflicts
Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development organization, for example, paid $12,724 for Lieutenant Gov. Jennifer Carrolls' trade mission to South Africa while The Aspen Institute, the Republican Attorney General Association and other groups have financed $8,860 in travel for Attorney General Pam Bondi.
The gifts do not violate the state's controversial 2005 gift ban because they came from people or organizations that are not registered lobbyists.
"It's okay for people to give gifts to each other...but we'd all like to have a gift to Taiwan," said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida. "Would they get these gifts if they weren't lawmakers?"
The report also named at least 10 lawmakers who worked for law firms that lobbied during the 2012 legislative session.
They are: Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, Rep. Greg Steube, R-Parrish.
Rep. Matt Gaetz said he, and some of the other legislators, worked for the firms previous to their time in public office and avoided contact with their firms' lobbyists.
Out of the 160-member Legislature, only 12 lawmakers disclosed conflicts, a number that seems very low considering that almost all lawmakers have careers outside the Legislature, Krassner said.
The report also monitored fluctuations in lawmakers' net worths, calculated by assets minus debt. Soaring net worths for some lawmakers may be "red flags" that the politician is benefiting off of his or her public position, Krassner said.
"Do you have public officials who know where a road is going to be built, and so they buy that land? Are there people who know a company is going to be deregulated so they buy stock in that company? These are the things we need to be watching for," said Krassner, also noting that the forms contain too little information to connect the dots on which lawmakers have conflicts.
The disclosure forms unveil a mixed bag on lawmaker finances. Many lawmakers were wealthy before they were elected, and many who've had careers in public office made lots of money in stocks and real estate when the market was booming.
Most lawmakers net worths' declined during the recession.
Gov. Rick Scott, for example, saw his net worth tank from $103 million to $82 million since he was elected in 2010.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Lieutenant Gov. Jennifer Carroll maintained a steady net worth during that same period. Attorney General Pam Bondi's net worth increased from $472,260 to $673,778.
Integrity Florida's report included several measures to improve government transparency. For example, Florida should adopt more detailed financial disclosure forms that include the lawmakers' job titles and their spouses' employment and property information, the report states.
Potential voting conflicts should also be revealed in advance of all votes, Krassner said. Under current law, the deadline for disclosing a potential conflict is 15 days after a vote.