Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Florida's newest good government group wants to clean up state ethics

Posted By on Tue, May 29, 2012 at 6:21 PM

Ben Wilcox & Dan Krassner with Integrity Florida
  • Ben Wilcox & Dan Krassner with Integrity Florida
A year and a half ago, a report was issued by a statewide grand jury that stated that public corruption is pervasive at all levels of government in Florida. It also reported that between 1998-2007, more than 800 elected officials in the Sunshine State were convicted of public corruption.

The report then died a quick death, with the 2011 Florida Legislature killing a bill that would have increased penalties for officials convicted of public corruption.

But is the public as indifferent to corruption as many of our politicians seem to be? Dan Krassner and Ben Wilcox don't think so.

The two men are with Integrity Florida, a nascent nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute whose mission is to promote integrity in government and expose public corruption. They made an immediate impact last month, releasing a report on Enterprise Florida, the official economic development organization of the state of Florida, that was secretly planning new tax-dollar giveaways to companies with code names like "Project Bacon," "Project Mae West," "Project Suite Spot" and "Project Snake Eyes."

Integrity Florida is referred to as a good-government group, and lord knows Tallahassee needs some cleaning up.

"I think we're kind of reaching a tipping point and we're seeing concern on the political spectrum from tea party folks to the League of Women Voters," Wilcox said Tuesday afternoon, as he and Krassner spoke to CL in our Ybor offices. "We have some hope that Governor Scott himself would become a champion for open government, transparency and ethics reform."

Scott has given open government supporters a bit of a boost with his new "Project Sunburst," a new website that posts some of the daily email that goes in and out of the governor's office.

"Government information should be public information," Krassner says. "And when it comes to public records, if they're not online they don't exist. It's an innovative step towards more open government and transparency."

Krassner says he wants to see Project Sunburst rolled out for all state agencies and government staff. That includes text messages and social media correspondence.

Krassner and Wilcox say they have already met with members of Governor Scott's staff and will do so again in the next few weeks.

Integrity Florida says there are four concrete ways to make it easier for citizens to track their elected officials and hold them accountable.

1- Put all campaign finance data online in an electronic, searchable downloadable form.
2- Put all lobbying expenditures online.
3- Put all government expenditures online.
4- Digitize financial disclosure information.

Their report on Enterprise Florida said that the public-private agency allows corporate sponsors to get tax breaks and lobbying contracts. The report also stated that Enterprise Florida hires board members as vendors and does not disclose all its tax-funded awards to companies or give notice of all its board meetings.

Integrity Florida's next report, which comes out on June 6, discusses ways to reduce corruption in state government.

Krassner and Wilcox will be speaking for free Tuesday night at Studio@620 at 6:30 p.m.

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