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Ruth: Fuss and feathers over ethics

You would probably be forgiven if you mistook the race for governor for something akin to an Our Gang comedy, with a couple of little boys fussing and fuming in a competition to paint the other as more ethically compromised than the cast of Reservoir Dogs.

For my selfish scribbling interests, one can only hope.

Still, the 2014 gubernatorial campaign has been somewhat of a disappointment when it comes to salacious scandal, nefarious wrongdoing and Shakespeare-quality duplicity. Considering the money involved, Republican Gov. Rick Scott and his likely Democratic challenger, former Gov. Charlie Crist, should be capable of committing a better quality of sin to outrage the other side.

At the risk of showing too much of my Chicago background, the kind of villainy associated with these two chaps qualifies as an early-morning warmup by your average Windy City alderman. A few days ago, a deeply faux-offended Sarasota Republican Party chairman Joe Gruters filed an ethics complaint accusing Crist of failing to disclose all his income. You may go back to sleep now.

Gruters' Diogenes-like search for an honest politician came after another full-of-outrage ethics complaint a few months ago alleging that Crist had illegally and with full premeditated intent accepted campaign contributions before officially announcing his candidacy for the governorship. Oh, the Tammany Hall of it all.

Scott faces his own allegations of moral breaches, including an ethics complaint filed last month that alleged a $135,000 investment in a French oil services company in his blind trust represented a conflict of interest because the firm does business in Florida.

First, this blind trust financial stuff gets so complicated that eyes glaze over before anyone gets too lathered up. Second, for a governor whose net worth is estimated to be $132 million, it would seem $135,000 to Rick Scott would be pocket change.

More recently, Scott faced another ethics complaint after a gaggle of law enforcement officers showed up in uniform to be window dressing at a campaign function touting the governor's bona fides as a crime fighter. This is indeed a no-no.

Hillsborough Sheriff's Office Col. Jim Previtera was shocked — shocked — to learn officers had been used as unwitting props at the function. "We obviously didn't know we were going to a campaign event," the shocked — shocked — Previtera insisted. "Had we known it was a campaign event we wouldn't have been there."

With that kind of guileless discernment, you have to wonder how a guy supposedly keenly skilled in deducing clues ever arrested anyone.

We're in an election year. An elected politician is seeking re-election. He shows up at an event with campaign signs in evidence surrounded by reporters, microphones and cameras. And Col. Previtera couldn't detect that it just might be possible politics could be afoot? Really?

The obvious problem with all this "J'accuse" going back and forth is that even if Scott and Crist were the gangsters of political chicanery they are accused of being, by the time charges are eventually resolved by the Florida Elections Commission, the campaigns are long over.

That may be because the point of all these ethics complaints has little to do with ethics. They enable the accusing party the opportunity to issue all manner of high-minded press releases suggesting the opponent is a tawdry, money-grubbing low-life bent on enriching himself at the public trough. Meanwhile the defendant seizes full advantage of the vicious slur upon his character as yet another conspiracy of a desperate campaign to impugn the integrity of one of Florida's most noble public servants.

There is a solution. Simply create an ethics complaint night court presided over by Judge Judy, in which allegations of untoward behavior would be heard within 48 hours of being lodged. If the miscreant candidate is found guilty, the campaign would be fined $1 million. If Judge Judy found the charge unfounded, the accuser would pay $1 million.

What are the odds these crybabies and the finger-pointing would disappear overnight? Then we could get back to the serious issues of the candidates' commitment to lies, puffery and denial.

Ruth: Fuss and feathers over ethics 07/18/14 [Last modified: Friday, July 18, 2014 4:55pm]

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