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Florida Democrats struggle to disclose their finances

A quarter of Democratic state lawmakers failed to comply with a law that requires they disclose their finances, compared to only 3 percent of Republican lawmakers.
Annette Taddeo
Published Aug. 12

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s Democratic lawmakers are proving to be much worse than their Republican colleagues in complying with a state law that requires they disclose their finances.

More than five weeks after the July 1 deadline and more than a week after late notices were sent out to lawmakers, 25 percent of the 64 Democratic state senators and representatives failed to comply with the law, compared to only 3 percent of the 96 Republican lawmakers.

Florida requires its elected officials to file financial disclosure forms with the Commission on Ethics that calculate their net worth by listing assets and debt. They must also list all sources of income. By law, the forms had to be at least postmarked by July 1, but the state gives officials a grace period before automatic fines kick in. If the forms still haven’t arrived by Sept. 3, the state will begin fining officials $25 a day up to a maximum $1,500.

“They shouldn’t give us the grace period, because we all take advantage of it!” Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo said with a laugh when a reporter corrected her that Sept. 3 was the end of the grace period, not the deadline to avoid breaking state law. “I will get it in today.”

Taddeo, one of five Democratic senators whose forms hadn’t been received by late last week, said she was delayed in part because she was still trying to figure if she had a state retirement fund to report. Three hours after the phone interview, she texted, “Update, I have zero to report on fl retirement because I’m not yet vested ... I’m submitting form now.”

Of the three Republicans and 16 Democrats who hadn’t filed their forms, only Republican Sen. Tom Lee asked the commission for an extension. He explained in a telephone interview that he is a partner in a limited liability company, which has until September to file its federal tax return, so until that’s filed, he’s not exactly sure of his income.

“What I wanted the ethics commission to understand is that I had a real problem answering the questions on the financial disclosure related to my income,” Lee said, adding that other delinquent lawmakers “know, as I do, that there’s a grace period. But that’s not what’s going on here with me — ignoring a deadline because I know there’s a grace period.”

The only one of the 73 House Republicans who hasn’t turned in his financial disclosure is Juan Fernandez-Barquin. He said it’s because his accountant is being treated for pancreatic cancer.

“I haven’t really been hounding him about my finances,” he said. “I’m going to turn them in before I get penalized.”

But he said he was amazed to hear that 11 of his 47 Democratic House colleagues still haven’t filed the forms.

“That’s a pretty outstanding number,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer said the trend along party lines is probably just coincidental.

“My guess would be if you looked over a number of years, you’d probably see some years more Republicans and some years more Democrats,” he said. “We all want to do it. None of us want to be subject to a penalty or fine.”

He too, is one of the late filers. Like Lee, he said it’s a matter of waiting for a corporate federal tax return to be filed.

“My corporate return is not finalized. That has to be finalized for my personal return to be finalized. I’m expediting that now and I intend to have everything filed on or before Sept. 3,” he said.


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