Florida’s ethics laws are just plain rude (2024)

In Florida, we’re truly blessed. Our laws let us pretend institutional racism doesn’t exist and never did; we have the God-granted right to destroy annoying wild lands to build sprawly new energy-inefficient homes; and our politicians are so selfless, so devoted, so virtuous, we don’t even need ethics laws.

Ethics laws are just plain rude. That’s why your Florida Legislature has produced a long-overdue bill ripping the guts out of ethics boards all over the state.

Florida’s ethics laws are just plain rude (1)

Under SB 7014, those tiresome busybodies can’t go around initiating investigations of public servants merely because they may have committed some so-called “impropriety” such as accepting a little bribe here and there.

The bill says no one is allowed to lodge a complaint about an official unless they have “personal knowledge or information other than hearsay” and attest to it under oath.

In other words, you can’t accuse the senator or the city commissioner unless you were right there in the room, watching her stuff that wad of Benjamins in her pocket or witnessing him cut a sweet deal with that property developer who is also (coincidentally, of course) a big campaign donor.

Totally fair, obvs.

If the governor signs the bill — and surely such an aboveboard, transparent and scrupulously fair fellow as Ron DeSantis will do just that — elected officials will no longer have to worry about nasty jealous people sticking their noses into allegations of vote-rigging, lavish gifts from lobbyists, ghost employees, campaign finance violations and corruption.

DeSantis holds the distinction of being the 45th most popular governor in the nation for a reason!

Unhealthy obsession

Now if those nitpicky “good government” types could get over their unhealthy obsession with conflicts of interest, illicit freebies and other supposed official malfeasance, the state could get back to the business of denying women reproductive rights, banning books and raping the environment.

Which is exactly what a majority of Floridians elected them to do!

Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, says, “You’re welcome, Florida!” — for it was he who craftily got this tough-on-ethics bill through the Florida Legislature.

In its original form, SB 7014 was kind of a snooze, imposing some procedural rules on the Florida Commission on Ethics, but once it got out of committee, Young Sen. Burgess leapt into action with floor amendments (lest those nefarious ethics pressure groups get wind of it) which:

-- Strip power from local ethics boards. (The Legislature knows what’s good for you, so shut up.);

-- Require sworn statements of personal knowledge that some governmental naughtiness has occurred; and

-- Allow officials who are also lawyers (like Young Sen. Burgess) to claim attorney-client privilege, so they don’t have to name certain people on their financial disclosure forms, because it’s none of your dang beeswax whether or not anything funny is going on.

Florida’s ethics laws are just plain rude (2)

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As Young Sen. Burgess said, “Somebody could call a tip line, hotline, pick up the phone and say, ‘This person is doing X, Y and Z,’ hang up the phone, then immediately maybe call the media and tip that off that a complaint was made, then the whole thing spirals out of control.”

This is exactly what keeps happening to our fine politicians!

Former Tallahassee mayor and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum got fined five grand for letting a lobbyist pay the tab for a Broadway show, a boat ride around the Statue of Liberty and maybe part of a little jaunt to Costa Rica.

Nothing to see here

And look at what happened to poor former Miami City Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla. He was arrested last September and charged with multiple felonies, including money laundering and bribery.

The nosy, no-good Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust got all up into Díaz de la Portilla’s business and discovered he had been — let’s call it “incentivized” — to help a $30,000-a-year private school take over a city park, reducing by two-thirds public access to it.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Broward State Attorney’s Office claim the private school’s lobbyist paid for Díaz de la Portilla’s vacations and served as campaign fundraiser for his brother Renier de la Portilla, who was running for a county judge seat.

Of course, the Libs, the naysayers and assorted other weirdos who insist on knowing how elected officials spend taxpayer money are staging a whine-fest.

They call the bill “anti-democratic” and warn “it will allow corruption to go unchallenged if it comes into law.”

They insist it will prevent “whistleblowers” from blowing their cheap little whistles for fear of retribution, and quite right, too.

Mike Murawski, the guy who runs the Naples Commission of Ethics and Governmental Integrity, bellyached about how 62% voted in 2020 to set up a commission “with the ability to self-initiate investigations,” and this new law “stands in direct opposition to the will of the people.”

The general counsel for the Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board says, “We might know that fraud is taking place, we might know that corruption is right in front of our eyes. But now under Senate Bill 7014, we’ll be completely powerless to do anything about it.”

No fuss

Oh, fuss, fuss, fuss: These so-called “independent ethics boards” are mostly anti-MAGA cells set up in a gaggle of wokey places such as Tallahassee, Gainesville, Coral Gables, Tampa, Palm Beach and Miami to “gotcha” patriotic Americans who happen to like making a profit or maybe tickets to “Hamilton.”

Come on, people: Who among us hasn’t relied on a fat-walleted lobbyist or other useful “friend” to shell out for something we want in exchange for something they want? That’s how our American system works. If only the new law had been in effect last year, Alex Díaz de la Portilla would be A-OK.

Jose Arrojo, executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, more or less admits that fact, saying that if anonymous whistleblowers can’t come forward, and if there are “no more employees referring information to us,” accusations won’t be worth a bucket of warm spit.

As Arrojo told The Miami Herald, “We would be sitting on our hands unless someone comes forward and files a complaint under oath.”

Well, go get a real job, mister! I hear lobbying pays really well.

Come now, Florida taxpayers. Do you truly need to worry your pretty little heads about government “ethics”? Don’t you have a road to clog, a tree to cut down or a vaccine to avoid?

Your elected officials don’t care about money and power. They want nothing more than to serve you. They love you. Trust them. After all, trust is the basis of all good relationships.

Diane Roberts is an eighth-generation Floridian. This essay, reprinted under a Creative Commons license, originally appeared in the Florida Phoenix.

© 2024 Florida Phoenix

Florida’s ethics laws are just plain rude (2024)


What is the conflict of interest law in Florida? ›

[Section 112.313(7)(a)] prohibits a public officer from having employment or a contractual relationship that will create a continuing and [sic] frequently recurring conflict between his private interests and his public duties, or that would impede the full and faithful discharge of his public duties.

What is the rule 4.1 8 in Florida? ›

A lawyer is prohibited from soliciting any gift from a client, including a testamentary gift, or preparing on behalf of a client an instrument giving the lawyer or a person related to the lawyer any gift unless the lawyer or other recipient of the gift is related to the client.

What is a conflict of interest in ethics law? ›

A conflict of interest occurs when an individual's personal interests – family, friendships, financial, or social factors – could compromise his or her judgment, decisions, or actions in the workplace. Government agencies take conflicts of interest so seriously that they are regulated.

What are examples of legal conflicts of interest? ›

For example, if an attorney has both the plaintiff and defendant in a given case as clients, advocating on behalf of one will inherently be advocating against the interests of the other. Attorneys must take care to check for potential conflicts prior to accepting an individual as a client.

What would be considered a conflict of interest? ›

A conflict of interest involves any action, inaction, or decision by a public official or public employee in the discharge of his or her official duties which would materially affect his or her financial interest or those of his or her family members or any business with which the person is associated in a manner ...

What is a violation of the conflict of interest rules? ›

Under the Act, a public official has a disqualifying conflict of interest in a governmental decision if it is foreseeable that the decision will have a financial impact on his or her personal finances or other financial interests.

What are legal issues with conflict of interest? ›

The Legal Implications of an Apparent Conflict of Interest
  • Breach of Fiduciary Duty. ...
  • Regulatory Scrutiny. ...
  • Reputational Damage. ...
  • Lawsuits and Litigation. ...
  • Contractual Obligations. ...
  • Loss of Employment. ...
  • The Role of Effective COI Policies. ...
  • Encouraging Open Disclosure and Transparency.
Oct 25, 2023


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