Sen. Mike Haridopolos' bill would require review of ethics forms

TALLAHASSEE — Senate President Mike Haridopolos plans to push a new law that would require the state's ethics commission to review each legislator's financial disclosure forms to spot troubles.

Financial disclosure problems have plagued Haridopolos, who acknowledged Wednesday that, for the third time, he recently corrected his forms to reflect potential income — this time from a rental home in Mount Dora.

Earlier this month, he was admonished by his rules chairman for "inadvertently" failing to disclose income and assets, including the Mount Dora home.

Haridopolos said he wants his new proposed bill to make sure other legislators don't end up in the same jam as he did. It would give lawmakers more guidance about how and what to disclose, he said.

Haridopolos, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate, said he didn't disclose the possibility of income from his Mount Dora home because he's not making money on it. The monthly payments exceed his rental income, he said.

"I'm losing more than $14,000," he said. "I don't think that losing money counts as income, but I checked with my attorney and we decided to amend the forms out of an abundance of caution."

Haridopolos acknowledged he made the change March 17 after inquiries from the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times. The amended forms don't disclose the rental income — which he said is just more than $1,100. His monthly payments on the home are $2,400.

Haridopolos said his new ethics legislation, which is being drafted, should be published Monday and taken up by the Rules Committee next week.

The measure would require the Florida Commission on Ethics to look over each of the 160 legislators' forms and make sure all the details of a lawmaker's income and liabilities are complete.

If the commission finds an error or a problem, the lawmaker would have 30 days to change the form, Haridopolos said.

Right now, the commission only reviews forms upon receiving a complaint.

Haridopolos said his proposal probably wouldn't add more money to the commission's budget for the extra work.

When he laid out his plans for the new ethics legislation Wednesday, Haridopolos also explained what led to an embarrassing incident when his office stripped a fellow Republican's ethics bill from the Wednesday agenda of the Government Oversight & Accountability Committee.

Haridopolos said his chief of staff, Stephen MacNamara, asked the committee to remove the item because the agenda was so long and the legislation sponsored by Sen. Paula Dockery would take an hour or more of discussion.

The legislation seeks to stop legislators from voting on measures that exclusively benefit them, their families or the companies they work for.

Dockery said the legislation is straightforward and necessary. She said she's willing to make changes and just wants to make sure lawmakers publicly disclose conflicts and avoid them.

Haridopolos said the bill should be heard next week. He said other ethics legislation will continue moving through the Senate along with his measure.

Haridopolos has repeatedly said he was embarrassed by his failure to disclose his income from 2004 to 2008. He also initially failed to list his Mount Dora investment property in the year he bought it, 2005.

As a college history teacher, he said, he expected better of himself — especially when it comes to filing disclosure forms mandated by the state's Constitution.

After a retiree filed a complaint against him in December 2009, Haridopolos corrected his forms in March. But two months later, he changed the forms again when he realized that he failed to note that his company, MJH Consulting, received money from a New York-based communications firm as well as an advertising agency based in his home county of Brevard.

Haridopolos never fought the ethics complaint against him and apologized to the full Senate and Rules chairman John Thrasher, who admonished him at the beginning of the spring lawmaking session — a spectacle that hasn't been seen in the state Capitol in recent history.

Haridopolos said he hopes this final amendment to his financial disclosure forms, plus his proposed ethics legislation, will give lawmakers more guidance.

"This," he said, "should solve the problem."

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@miamiherald.com.

Sen. Mike Haridopolos' bill would require review of ethics forms 03/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 10:52pm]

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