Floridians committed to rooting out corruption in government are building momentum for a statewide movement for ethics reform. Integrity Florida has been honored to meet and engage citizen watchdogs, journalists, tea party groups, League of Women Voters chapters, local chambers of commerce, retiree groups and other civic groups across the state from Naples to Pensacola and Jacksonville to Miami in this effort.
One of our board members, Marty Rogol, led the Palm Beach County ethics reform initiative in 2010. Palm Beach saw four of their county commissioners go to prison and Time magazine gave that community the dubious distinction as the most corrupt county in Florida. As chairman of Leadership Palm Beach County, Rogol brought together a broad and diverse coalition of individuals of all partisan viewpoints to support ethics reform. Voters in Palm Beach overwhelmingly passed ballot measures creating a local ethics commission that has the power to self-start investigations, an independent inspector general with secure funding and a stronger local ethics code than the state ethics code for public officials.
The National Association of Counties recently recognized Palm Beach County with an award for its government ethics program. Integrity Florida is working to replicate the Palm Beach County reform model in other communities and recommending similar reform measures to the governor and state legislators.
Did you know that Florida led the United States in federal public corruption convictions from 2000-10? Since 1976, Florida's federal courts have convicted nearly 1,800 individuals for public corruption, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. That's an average of 49 public corruption convictions a year, or about one a week for 35 years. Forbes magazine has cited public corruption as a reason they gave several Florida cities poor marks on their list of America's Most Miserable Cities.
A recent report by State Integrity Investigation gave Florida an overall C-minus for corruption risk and failing marks for ethics enforcement agencies.
The 2013 legislative session is shaping up to be one where Florida has the potential to go from an F grade for ethics enforcement to an A grade. Florida will be on track for an A grade if our state legislators give state ethics law enforcement officers the authority to initiate investigations, incorporate a report corruption hotline, increase penalties and give the Ethics Commission more tools for enforcement of fines.
Integrity Florida is working to address Florida's corruption problem by publishing research reports that are getting results. Our first report exposed a secretive, self-dealing government agency that has committed nearly $2 billion of tax dollars without accountability for results. The second research report by Integrity Florida provided a road map for ethics reform that was largely adopted by the Florida Commission on Ethics as their 2013 ethics reform legislative agenda. Legislators are backing ethics reform bills based on Integrity Florida research recommendations. Florida lawmakers are calling for more disclosure following the third research report published by Integrity Florida titled Corruption Risk Report: Financial Disclosure.
In addition to publishing reports, Integrity Florida has convened ethics reform coalitions across the state, dedicated to passing local government ethics policies. These grassroots coalitions cross partisan boundaries bringing together Republicans, Democrats and independents to achieve local reform victories.
Our vision is a Florida with the most open, ethical, responsive and accountable government in the world. We want to make sure that public servants are doing the public's business, not gaining privately based on their position. The coalition of Floridians continuing to vocalize their support for ethics reform has made it clear to the governor, state Legislature and local governments that reducing corruption at all levels of government is a top priority.
Incoming state Senate President Don Gaetz, State Rep. Charles McBurney and other lawmakers are prioritizing ethics reform legislation for the coming session. Integrity Florida applauds the priority attention being given to ethics reform measures by our state leaders.