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PolitiFact Florida | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact Florida: Democrats wrongly link state's No. 1 corruption ranking to Gov. Rick Scott

Florida Democrats play up the significance of "one" in a Web video designed to get members fired up about taking on Gov. Rick Scott in 2014.

A segment riffs off a clip of Scott saying, "Florida won't stop until we're No. 1."

The words "Um, right" appear on the screen, followed by a newspaper headline typed over a picture of Scott that reads, "Study ranks Florida No. 1 in government corruption."

"No. 1 in government corruption," the ad states. "Yep, Rick Scott, you're #1 alright."

Florida Republicans were not amused with the video for many reasons, taking particular issue with the corruption claim. We decided to check it out. Is it fair for Democrats to link Scott with the report on corrupt government officials?

At issue is a study released by Integrity Florida, a nonprofit watchdog group, in June 2012.

From 2000 to 2010, the study found Florida led all states in total convictions of officials and staff who broke federal public corruption laws. Florida had 781 convictions, followed by more populous states California, Texas and New York.

Without getting into more of the nitty-gritty of the report, we'll note it included a disclaimer key to our fact-check on Page 2: "The public corruption conviction data included in this report is from a time period prior to Gov. Rick Scott taking office."

Integrity Florida included the line to discourage people from doing essentially what the Democrats did: misconstruing a correlation between the decade of corruption cases and Scott, who had been in office a year and a half when the report was released.

"We were concerned about that kind of interpretation," Integrity Florida executive director Dan Krassner told us.

The Florida Democratic Party stands by its video. Spokesman Joshua Karp directed us to a story by the Tampa Bay Times about Scott promising ethics reform with an executive order on his first day in office but not following through. Scott had pledged his administration would develop a plan for implementing "all or certain" recommendations by a grand jury convened by former Gov. Charlie Crist.

"We feel that we have a strong case here given that the text of the ad is 100 percent true," Karp said, "and the fact is that Scott has not addressed the problems addressed in the report."

But the video does not get into that degree of detail. It also fails to mention that Scott did sign two ethics measures into law this year.

The laws give the state Commission on Ethics more power to investigate complaints referred to it, requires constitutional officers to go through four hours of ethics training and bans former legislators from lobbying state agencies for two years after leaving office, among other things.

One more note: Florida is not universally considered the most corrupt state.

A study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago examined Department of Justice data for corruption convictions across the states from 1976 to 2010. The broadened time period meant Florida ranked No. 4 in total federal public corruption convictions (1,762 convictions), trailing New York, California and Illinois. Per capita, Florida ranked eighth.

Our ruling

The Democrats took too big a leap by blatantly linking Scott with a report about Florida being No. 1 for federal corruption convictions. The report specifically stated it was looking at the decade before Scott took office. The juxtaposition in the video is misleading, leaving viewers with the wrong impression. We rate this claim False.

This fact-check has been edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

The statement

A study ranked Florida "No. 1 in government corruption" under Gov. Rick Scott.

Florida Democratic Party, in a Web video

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: False
One problem: The study specifically stated it was looking at the decade before Scott took office. We rate this claim False.

PolitiFact Florida: Democrats wrongly link state's No. 1 corruption ranking to Gov. Rick Scott 06/23/13 [Last modified: Sunday, June 23, 2013 10:29pm]
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