Integrity Florida's AFP alliance leads 2 to resign
The decision by the nonprofit watchdog group Integrity Florida to produce research sponsored by Americans for Prosperity has triggered a pair of resignations. AFP, run by the politically influential Koch brothers, paid for a research project that concluded that a "pay to play" culture exists at Enterprise Florida Inc.
Barbara Petersen, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation, resigned her seat on Integrity Florida's board after questions were raised about the propriety of sponsored research. Immediately afterward, Integrity Florida's Dan Krassner stepped down from his seat on the First Amendment Foundation.
"We agreed it was best for Barbara to resign, and Dan offered to resign and I accepted the resignation," said Tim Nickens, editor of the Tampa Bay Times editorial pages and chairman of the First Amendment Foundation board of trustees.
The question is whether Integrity Florida's partnership with a conservative advocacy organization with ties to Republicans on Capitol Hill and the oil industry has hurt its reputation. Integrity Florida has sought to provide a much-needed voice in the state.
Petersen said: "I found myself in the uncomfortable situation of being asked by citizen groups and the media to justify recent decisions by Integrity Florida that, to some, inaccurately folded [the First Amendment Foundation] into Integrity Florida's decision-making process ... This put me in a very difficult position and I decided it would be best if I resigned." Krassner said Petersen did not attend any Integrity Florida board meetings and played no role in the decision to partner with AFP.
Americans for Prosperity has a longstanding philosophical opposition to government-financed corporate incentives that, the group has said, pick "winners and losers." AFP's logo appeared on the report Integrity Florida released last week on Enterprise Florida.
Krassner said Integrity Florida approached AFP about partnering and that the report, issued last week, was "consistent" with conclusions in an April 2012 report on Enterprise Florida that was not sponsored by another entity. Krassner said AFP officials "reviewed the report and gave us feedback" before it was published, "just like other partners." He said a section of the report that was changed, affecting Disney, was altered because of communication Krassner had with Disney -- not because of influence by AFP.
Krassner said Integrity Florida has done sponsored research before without any backlash. Last year, the LeRoy Collins Institute co-authored a study of county ethics policies in Florida.