CRC Amendment 12 — Ethics

Oct 16, 2018

Next up in our look at some of the Constitution Revision Commission amendments making it to the November 6 ballot, is the one seeking to upgrade Florida’s ethics law.

The ballot measure began life as Proposal 6007 and then Proposition 39. After a nearly-total rewrite, the CRC voted 30-4 to place it on the ballot as Amendment 12. The main sponsor was former Senate President Don Gaetz of Niceville.

“We intend to nail shut the ‘revolving door’ between public office and private lobbying,” said Gaetz during debate earlier this year. “Between heading and agency, and then turning around and lobbying the agency you headed. Between serving on the county commission, and while simultaneously lobbying another local government that has interconnected interests.”

The proposal has five parts, including one that says, in effect, that officeholders cannot serve two masters.

“All elected public officials while they are in office are barred from lobbying for compensation, on any matter of policy, appropriations, or procurement, before any level of government.” Gaetz said. “If you want to represent the people, run for office; if you want to represent special interests, be a lobbyist.”

The amendment would also impose a six-year ban on lobbying across the board.

“Former legislators, former governors, former lieutenant governors, former cabinet members are barred from lobbying the legislature, cabinet, or any state agency,” said Gaetz. “Former heads of executive departments are barred from lobbying the governor’s office; cabinet, the legislature, or the department that they used to run.”

Local officials leaving county commissions, school boards, and city councils — along with constitutional officers and mayors — are also under the six-year ban and cannot lobby their former agency or governing body.

“And former justices or judges are barred from lobbying before the legislature or executive branches of state government,” Gaetz added.

“Revolving door provisions are important because you want people going into public service to serve the public; not for their own personal benefit,” said Ben Wilcox, research director for the group Integrity Florida — a nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute and government watchdog.

“I think it causes the public to lose trust and confidence in government,” said Wilcox. “Because they think the public official is just serving to eventually collect a six-figure lobbying check, and not really interested in serving the public’s best interest.”

Amendment-12 also bans “disproportionate benefits” — as defined by the Florida Commission on Ethics — for officeholders, their families and their businesses. CRC member Don Gaetz says it also contains a schedule for implementation.

“The Ethics Commission would adopt its rules by October 1, 2019,” Gaetz said. “And then the legislature would enact any implementing legislation — including penalties that are called for — by December 31, 2020.”

The abuse of public office provision dealing with disproportionate benefits would also take effect on December 31st, 2020; and the lobbying bans would kick in on December 31st, 2022.

But while Integrity Florida’s Ben Wilcox applauds Amendment-12, he says more can — and should — be done.

“We could have tougher ethics laws; we could have a Florida Commission on Ethics that has the ability to self-initiate investigations rather than have to wait for someone to file a complaint before they can look at potentially unethical behavior,” Wilcox said. “There’s all sorts of things we can do.”

But while the amendment seeks to tighten up the ethics law, Gaetz says there is some wiggle room for officeholders regarding their regular day jobs.

“This proposal does not prohibit a lawyer who’s a legislator from representing his client in permitting or zoning matters,” Gaetz said. “A ban against lobbying does not prohibit an engineer, or a nurse, a teacher or an auto shop owner from conducting his or her own business, while serving as a citizen officeholder.”

The CRC proposals will join five others on the ballot; three approved by the Legislature and two from petition drives.