Ethics Commission - Tiger or Paper Tiger?

Stiffer ethical standards for elected officials are on the front burner for both new legislative leaders in the state capitol. It has been more than three decades since the laws were strengthened.

A dozen people waited nervously outside the Commission on Ethics, Friday. Responding to complaints that remain secret, unless the commission finds probable cause they did something wrong.

But even when the answers is "yes", the penalty is often nil. Tallahassee's Mayor was vindicated when he challenged a charge that he had not disclosed an interest before voting. Ethics chairman Susan Maurer, says the law now requires a higher standard of proof than many other cases. "If we could tighten some of those loopholes or eliminate some of those loopholes, the laws are adequate".

Who even gets before the commission is also being questioned by advocates. State lawmakers have drawn a law so tightly that even if police uncovers something in an investigation and say you should look at this; the ethics commission can't.

Dan Krassner is a spokesman for Integrity Florida. "In 2011 there were only 169 citizen complaints to the ethics commission. This ethics commission can't take action, cannot begin an investigation without a citizen complaint".

Virlindia Doss is the Ethics Commission Executive Director. "We are trying to make, to get the fines issues taken care of".

Hundreds of officials refuse to file a legally required financial disclosure form, face 25 dollar a day fines, but the commission has no power to collect or punish.

Ethics Commission Member Matthew Carlucci says, "If somebody wants to snub their nose at the law for four years, they can do it and that's wrong".

In the last decade, public officials have avoided more than nine hundred thousand dollars in fines. Elected officials have been able to avoid those fines because the statute of limitations is four years, and they simply wait out the law.


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