These are harsh words for a Sunday morning, but the occasion screams out for them. I take them from the Bible; please forgive me.
The Florida Legislature proved this past week, once and for all, that it is the utter Whore of Babylon.
It is now legal in our state to pay off the Legislature directly. Who says so? The Legislature.
This is not a joke.
This is not satire.
This is Florida — where the laws of our democracy are now openly, officially For Sale.
On Thursday afternoon, with greedy lip-smacking speed, the Legislature voted to relegalize a bygone and corrupt institution, outlawed in this state for more than two decades, known as "leadership funds."
These "leadership funds" are campaign slush funds operated legally and officially by the leaders of the Legislature themselves:
The speaker of the Florida House and his chosen successor, the "speaker designate."
The president of the Florida Senate and his successor.
The leaders of the minority party in the House and Senate.
So now, just as it was in Florida's corrupt past, if you are an interest group that wants a law passed, you simply go to the leaders of the House and Senate …
And you pay them off directly.
I feel the need to repeat: This is not a joke.
This is now the law of Florida, as of Thursday — for they tripped over themselves to make it effective immediately.
And so this is our stewardship of the great nation birthed by Washington and Jefferson and preserved by Lincoln.
This is the American legislative process once practiced by Clay and Webster.
This is what we have come to.
"Lawmakers" walking around with open gunny sacks, selling the democracy, frankly, proudly, wickedly, shamelessly, amorally.
• • •
If you tell yourself a lie, and if everybody around you tells the exact same lie, and it is vitally important that all of you believe it — then all of you will believe it.
Especially if you all profit from it.
And so every single person in Tallahassee who voted for this outrageously wicked law on Thursday will tell you exactly the same lie:
It's an improvement.
It's a reform.
Here is Tallahassee thinking. Here is how they rationalize it:
See, it will be better if interest groups can just pay off the Legislature directly. We will list the contributions in a separate report and everybody can see it. This will be more "transparent."
Yes, a nice, separate report! Makes me feel better!
Except for two tiny, teeny things:
1. The money is laundered anyway.
They turn right around and pour their ill-gotten money into local elections around the state to perpetuate their power. Local candidates Smith and Jones are still being bankrolled by corporations, or unions as the case may be, hidden through the leadership funds.
2. The second teeny, tiny problem is, in case I have not adequately mentioned it …
THE LEGISLATURE IS BEING PAID OFF
Good grief! Jehoshaphat! Are you kidding me? Are you kidding?
In what universe should the very writers of law in a democracy operate their own slush funds, into which those seeking favorable treatment can pour money?
If you are personal friends with, or a fellow Rotary member of, a Florida legislator who voted for this — heck, if you are married to someone who voted for this — you will want to believe him or her. This is human nature. It is loyalty. It is understandable.
Ed Hooper of Clearwater. Peter Nehr of Tarpon Springs.
Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, who promised to take people to the "woodshed." (Did he mean, so they could give money there?)
Jim Frishe of St. Petersburg. Dana Young of Tampa. Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel, the next speaker, whom I like tremendously.
I am sure that if you are among their friends or family, you will want to believe them. They will speak very smoothly about it.
But here is the reality. Here is the truth.
Legislators. Sworn to the sacred duty of writing the laws of a free people. Taking legal, direct payoffs from those seeking favorable laws.
If you can swallow that, then your moral relativism knows no bounds.
• • •
Here is who voted for this from our part of the state, and who voted against it.
Senators voting yes:
Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island; Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg; Jim Norman, R-Tampa; Ronda Storms, R-Brandon.
Senators voting no:
Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey; Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland; Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.
House members voting yes:
Larry Ahern, R-Seminole; Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton; Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg; Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview; Richard Corcoran, R-New Port Richey; Jim Frishe, R-St. Petersburg; Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City; James Grant, R-Tampa; Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa; Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater; John Legg, R-New Port Richey; Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland; Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs; Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill; Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness; Greg Steube, R-Bradenton; Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel; Dana Young, R-Tampa.
House members voting no:
Janet Cruz, D-Tampa; Richard Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg; Betty Reed, D-Tampa; Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.
Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city!