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Ethics panel gives senator okay to help company seek gov't business

Published Apr. 29, 2013

The Florida Commission on Ethics on Friday gave the green light to Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, to take a consulting job with a private equity and venture capital firm that is hoping to drum up state contracts for its investments in education, healthcare, technology and other services.

Ring, the chairman of the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee and vice chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax, asked for the advisory opinion from the ethics panel because he will be working for Sterling Partners, a venture capital firm with offices in Chicago, Baltimore and Miami, after session ends next week.

"Their portfolio of companies include companies like Sylvan Learning, a company called First Choice, which does free-standing emergency room hospitals,'' Ring told the Herald/Times.

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Other companies include Connections Academy, the online school that partners with Florida Virtual School, and School of Rock, a franchise-based music school and camp. "They're like a Bain Capital,'' Ring said. Ring said he sought the advisory opinion to be sure that he would not violate state ethics laws, which prohibit him from working for a company seeking business from a state agency and require him to disclose any of his legislative votes that result in private financial gain to his business interests.

He said he does not expect to have a voting conflict because he's not starting the job until after session ends, May 3. Before session began, Ring "engaged in discussions with State University personnel about maximizing foreign student admissions that result in higher tuition fees than in-state student admissions,'' wrote Mark Herron, Ring's attorney in a note to the Ethics Commission. Download Herron letter

The Ethics Commission concluded that Ring can't get paid to do any more consulting for business ventures related to state universities, but he can approach community colleges, school districts and local governments.

"The issue of consulting on their behalf, I am barred from state agencies,'' Ring said. "The university systems are a state agency but the community college is not, school districts are not,'' he said. "I won't be able to do anything with them at the state university level."

The Ethics Commission also concluded in its opinion approved on Friday that Ring can serve as a consultant who advises the firm about issue "leading to a decision to approach the Legislature concerning an issue. However, once such a decision is made, the Senator's consulting should not include any activities related to accomplishing the goals of the firm or its subsidiaries before the Legislature."

-- Mary Ellen Klas and Rochelle Koff