By Caitlin Ginley
Citing the Center for Public Integrity’s States of Disclosure project and State Integrity Investigation as a basis for reform, the nonpartisan research group Integrity Florida has issued a report calling for stronger financial disclosure requirements in the Sunshine State.
Among the report’s recommendations: requiring Florida state officials to fill out more detailed financial disclosure forms and making that information available online in a searchable database format.
Florida ranked 26th – a grade of D – on the 2009 release of States of Disclosure, a state-by-state comparison of legislative financial disclosure laws. To improve its standing, Integrity Florida calls for adopting requirements similar to Louisiana, which dramatically raised its ranking all the way to number one in the 2009 States of Disclosure analysis. The Bayou State required all lawmakers to disclose a wide range of financial assets, including outside income, investments, and real property holdings. Louisiana had ranked 44th in a previous States of Disclosure analysis from 2006.
“When we compared the financial disclosure for the two states, it was clear that Louisiana has the best form in the country and Florida should adopt it,” said Dan Krassner, Integrity Florida’s executive director.
The group’s report also stresses easy public access to the information, noting that 27 states have put financial disclosure information online, according to the State Integrity Investigation, a 50-state analysis of government accountability measures. Florida’s disclosure data is not available online.
“Integrity Florida realized that it’s easy to put these forms online,” Krassner said, explaining that the nonprofit group was able to upload and share more than 600 financial disclosure documents at virtually no cost.
In analyzing legislators’ financial disclosure documents for the 2012 session, Integrity Florida found that 11 legislators worked for lobbying firms, 12 legislators disclosed potential conflicts of interest on votes, and more than 4,000 public officials and employees failed to file their financial disclosure statement.
The lack of online disclosure also affected Florida’s standing on the State Integrity Investigation, particularly in the categories of legislative accountability and executive accountability. The Sunshine State received a C- and ranked 18th overall.
But Krassner said he is hopeful that momentum is building in Florida for ethics reform, crediting States of Disclosure and the State Integrity Investigation for providing clear steps for action.
“Governors are constantly competing with each other, and so are legislators between the states,” he said. “Having the comparison by the Center for Public Integrity of Florida’s disclosure versus other states means our officials can see specifically what needs to be done to be number one in the country.”
Florida State Senator Don Gaetz (R-Niceville), the incoming Senate President, said he expects ethics legislation will be proposed next year, and noted that he will be looking carefully at the new report.
“I’ve made raising the ethical standard at the state and local level a preeminent concern of mine,” Gaetz said.
Integrity Florida hopes to work with reform-minded lawmakers to push reform in the 2013 legislative session, which begins in January.