Editorial: Voters deserved to know more about Gillum’s ethics issues

The ethics commission’s decision to pursue charges against the former candidate suggests voters had an incomplete picture.
Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum speaks during a CNN debate in October. The state ethics commission has found probable cause that he broke ethics rules. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) FLCO110
Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum speaks during a CNN debate in October. The state ethics commission has found probable cause that he broke ethics rules. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) FLCO110
Published February 1

It’s becoming clearer why Andrew Gillum did not ask the state ethics commission to release any records last year while he was running for governor. The more that comes out about allegations that he broke ethics rules by failing to report accepting gifts as mayor of Tallahassee, the worse he looks. This is another example that illustrates why voters deserve a complete picture of the candidates they are considering before casting their ballots.

The ethics commission voted unanimously last week that there is probable cause that Gillum broke state ethics rules. An advocate for the commission had recommended commissioners pursue ethics allegations against Gillum for accepting hundreds of dollars worth of airfare, tickets to the Broadway show Hamilton and food without reporting them. The advocate, Elizabeth Miller, argued that Gillum’s excuses that he was naive and too trusting of a former friend are not believable.

“The point is,’’ she said, “he never intended to know what was paid for, (or) who paid for it, because he wasn’t going to report it if it was a gift.’’

This week’s release of a recording of the Jan. 25 ethics commission meeting and hundreds of pages of records paint an unflattering picture of Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor who narrowly lost to Republican Ron DeSantis. Adam Corey, his one-time friend, said in an affidavit Gillum never reimbursed him for the Hamilton ticket, lodging in Costa Rica or other expenses. Gillum’s brother told ethics investigators he received the Hamilton tickets from Corey in exchange for tickets to a Jay-Z concert but provided no proof. How convenient.

During the campaign, Gillum said he assumed his brother paid for the Hamilton ticket. Yet previously released text messages suggested Gillum was aware the tickets were paid for by “Mike Miller,” who turned out to be an FBI agent posing as a developer. Gillum also described the trip to Costa Rica as a vacation and said he and his wife often vacationed with other families and divided the costs. But newly released records show Corey took Gillum to lunch during the trip and labeled the $98 expense as “lunch with Mayor Gillum to discuss city issues.’’ Maybe it was a working vacation?

To be fair, Gillum was interviewed twice by ethics investigators and Corey refused to be interviewed. Gillum’s lawyer said Gillum did not attend the lunch. And Gillum, now a political commentator for CNN, will have an opportunity to defend himself before an administrative law judge on the ethics charges.

But this is all information voters should have had before they cast their ballots in the race for governor. Gillum’s confusing responses about the Hamilton ticket days before the election were not reassuring. And the FBI and the Justice Department could have helped by publicly declaring whether Gillum was a target of its investigationt. City Commissioner and former Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox was indicted in December by a federal grand jury on public corruption charges, but no criminal charges have been filed against Gillum.

There was a statewide recount in the governor’s race, and Gillum lost by less than 33,000 votes out of more 8.2 million votes that were cast. It’s unclear how much the ethics cloud and the FBI investigation influenced the outcome. But a new governor facing ethics charges and continuing silence on whether there will be any more charges from the FBI investigation would not have been ideal. Voters deserved to know more before they cast their ballots for governor.

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