Troubled by Richard Corcoran's firm's legal work, Rick Scott's office demands action from state agencies
Gov. Rick Scott's chief of staff on Monday directed every state agency to report cases in which the agency pays a law firm that also employs a member of the Legislature, saying it "could easily be perceived as a conflict of interest."
At the outset of Week 4 of the annual legislative session, the governor's apparent questioning of House Speaker Richard Corcoran's ethics could create new tensions in the state Capitol.
The memo from Kim McDougal came in response to a Times/Herald report that disclosed that Enterprise Florida, the agency that Corcoran is trying to abolish, has paid more than $235,000 in legal fees since 2011 to the Orlando-based law firm of Broad & Cassel -- which employs Corcoran.
"The employment of a legislator by a law firm that does business with the state could easily be perceived as a conflict of interest," McDougal wrote.
Her memo cited a provision in the state ethics code that prohibits public officers or employees from having an employment or contractual relationship with any business that is subject to the regulation of or is doing business with the state agency that employs the officer or employee.
"Specifically, it is important to know that the spirit and letter of the law are being followed regarding legislators' or state employees' contractual relationships with state agencies," McDougal wrote.
Corcoran has said that Enterprise Florida paid Broad & Cassel for legal work before he joined the firm in 2011. Corcoran also has said he was not personally aware that his firm did legal work for Enterprise Florida. The speaker is of counsel to Broad & Cassel, which means he does not share in the firm's profits, and he reported $175,000 in income on his latest financial disclosure statement.
UPDATE: Corcoran's spokesman, Fred Piccolo, released this statement in response to McDougal's memo.
"The Speaker will join hands with the governor to clean up wasting taxpayer money anytime and any place. He's encouraged the governor is engaged now in ethics reform and admitting Enterprise Florida is a state agency. Two huge steps for those, like the speaker, who want full transparency and accountability of government spending. We appreciate the governor’s office again pointing out that Richard Corcoran cannot be bought by reminding everyone that he completely eliminated the budget of a client of his employer.”
Senate President Joe Negron also worked for the Gunster law firm, which frequently represented private clients before state agencies, but Negron resigned from the firm in January, before the start of the legislative session and four days after Scott said state law should be changed to prevent legislators from working for law firms that lobby the Legislature. Broad & Cassel also lobbies the Legislature on behalf of private clients.
McDougal said she wants a report from every state agency by noon next Monday, April 3.