With Republican state House Speaker Ray Sansom under public scrutiny for his ethical lapses, you would think Democrats would be particularly careful about their own conduct. You would be wrong. The Democratic leadership in the House has been reckless at best in their heavy-handed linking of committee assignments to campaign fundraising. Even the perception reinforces the notion that everything in Tallahassee is for sale.
The Palm Beach Post reported this week that Rep. Yolly Roberson of Miami said House Democratic Leader Franklin Sands of Weston put a price tag on a recommendation for a seat on the House's most influential health care committee: $50,000 in fundraising. Sands pleads memory loss, can't believe he would have ever have said such a thing and says he would not condone such crass behavior.
Then how does he explain this voice mail from another top Democrat, Rep. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando, to one of her colleagues that was obtained by the Post: "I'm calling members because we have to identify ranking members on various committees. . . . And, um, I wanted to know because we take into consideration what kind of financial or other contribution you have made to the Florida Democratic Party and whether you are available to doing that in the future.''
The intent sounds pretty clear: No cash, no plumb committee assignments. Other Democrats told the Orlando Sentinel they fielded similar questions from colleagues who were involved in making recommendations for committee assignments.
In the end, of course, Sansom's leadership team in the Republican-controlled House makes the final determination which legislators sit on which committees. The GOP leadership gives Democrats some say on which Democrats are appointed to which committees. And the most powerful legislators from each political party tend to be effective fund-raisers.
But assignments on such powerful committees as appropriations and health care should have some tie to knowledge and experience in the field. They should not be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Despite Sands' protests that this is all just a misunderstanding, it doesn't look good.