It’s no wonder that Floridians are losing faith in their government. More public officials in Florida are charged with corruption than in any other state. But the problem isn’t simply criminal wrongdoing. The truth is much of what is wrong isn’t even illegal. We have a state government that operates largely in the shadows; a campaign finance system that gives special interests way too much power; and too many of our public institutions seem totally beholden to everyone but everyday citizens. I spent the better part of a decade fighting corruption in Florida as a federal prosecutor, so I have seen this malignancy up close. There will always be those that find a way to skirt the law or engage in sleezy behavior, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t adopt measures intended to bring greater accountability and oversight to the operations of government. Today I introduced a handful of measures that if adopted would go a long way toward that goal. Here they are:
- Bring more sunshine to the Legislature. Currently, the legislature does not have to comply with the same open government requirements as city and county government. We need to amend the Constitution to force legislators to open up their proceedings. Sunshine is a great antiseptic, and frankly Tallahassee could use a good scrubbing.
- Give government investigators more independence. Currently, agency Inspector Generals are appointed by and work for the Secretary of the agency. It makes little sense to have as your boss the person you might be investigating. So I propose to have agency investigators work for the state Auditor General to give them greater independence.
- Reform campaign contribution laws. Florida law limits individual campaign contributions to $500 and bans gifts from lobbyists. However, a massive loophole allows public officials to take unlimited contributions for political committees they totally control. Some legislators have legally received checks in excess of $25,000. Legislators should be barred from raising money for or controlling any of these entities.
- Give state prosecutors more tools to fight corruption. We should expand the sweep of bribery statutes, adopt tougher prohibitions in government procurement and bidding, and most importantly adopt a state version of the federal “Theft of Honest Services Law” that allows for the prosecution of individuals who are guilty of defrauding the public of its right to honest government.
- Provide greater oversight and scrutiny over our state pension fund. Presently, the pension fund is governed by a Board comprised of the Governor, CFO and Attorney General, making it impossible for the Attorney General to conduct truly independent reviews. We should amend the constitution to replace the Attorney General with the Agriculture Commissioner (who already has a consumer mission), freeing up the AG to assume an oversight mission of the pension fund, as states like New York have done.
- Make the Public Service Commission more independent. Make the PSC operate act more like a judicial body where all communications are in public and any written or electronic communications are recordable, preserved and available to the public much like any court proceeding requires.