Gaetz defends his ethics reform laws

Don Gaetz
Dear Neighbor,

We have a bit of good news for those who support holding our elected officials accountable through strong ethics laws.

Earlier this week, a circuit court judge in Leon County upheld the bipartisan ethics reform legislation passed during the 2013 Legislative Session. In a frivolous, politically-motivated lawsuit targeting a key provision of the law, the judge rejected the arguments of Democratic political operatives, arguments also incidentally supported by most of the major newspapers in the state as well as the Florida Press Association.

In 2013, the Florida Legislature demonstrated to our constituents that we are serious about comprehensive ethics reform – from the way we run our campaigns to the way we conduct legislative business. Senate Bill 2 represented a historic step to improve transparency and increase accountability and has been praised as “the most sweeping ethics reform in 38 years.” In fact, the blind trust provision specifically challenged by this litigation actually allows the public to know everything the elected official knows about the assets in the trust. (Click here for a detailed description of this landmark law).

The ethics reform legislation was a keystone of Speaker Will Weatherford’s and my joint Work Plan and was the first bill the Senate passed when I became president. It was supported by every Democrat and every Republican and lauded by former Governor Reubin Askew (D-Pensacola) as “a welcome miracle.” Obviously, I am pleased with the court’s ruling to affirm the constitutionality of this historic law.

What’s disappointing is the surprisingly sparse press coverage of this ruling, especially considering the extensive reporting by media organizations who rushed to support this lawsuit when it was initially filed.

What’s more, you will struggle to find any story covering the judge’s ruling that even mentions that these media organizations were involved at all, now that this lawsuit has been rejected by the court. Filed by Democrat partisans, the lawsuit focused their attack on a provision that allows state officials to place their assets in blind trusts thereby erecting a wall between their public roles and any benefit to their private assets. Former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and and Governor Rick Scott have placed their assets in blind trusts. The statewide grand jury and the Florida Ethics Commission asked the Legislature to pass the blind trust provision as a meaningful part of ethics reform.

Democrat partisans, chafing that Republicans were being credited with passing an ethics bill, calculated they could poison the political environment with litigation. Then came the most predictable hard-wired power surge in Florida politics: Democrat operatives make allegations about anything Republican and, presto, much of the media cries “It must be that bad or worse.”

This time, not content to lead Bronx cheers from the sidelines, big media insisted on suiting up themselves as co-litigants, thereby creating the efficiency of being both the reporters and the reported on. But, to the surprise of everyone except a judge who knew his Constitution, the Democrats and the media lost. The ethics law is upheld, but it seems the ruling is getting one tenth the coverage of the allegations.

One could look at the coverage of this issue and think maybe, just maybe, media bias is real and not a figment of the imaginations of those who wear tinfoil hats and are tracked by black helicopters. Do your own research and you decide.

Either way, Senate Bill 2 is a good law. It’s a law we can strengthen and improve in the years ahead. It is a law I’m proud to have delivered to the people of Northwest Florida, weary of self-dealing and corruption at home and in Tallahassee.

I remain hopeful we will see the fruits of Senate Bill 2 in more ethical, accountable and transparent leadership and stewardship of the public’s trust for generations to come. In government and perhaps in the media, as well.

As always, my door is open. Please feel free to share your comments and criticisms with me.


Don Gaetz