Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Integrity Florida defends its financial support from Koch Brothers-funded group

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2013 at 11:22 AM

Ben Wilcox & Dan Krassner with Integrity Florida
  • Ben Wilcox and Dan Krassner with Integrity Florida
In less than a year, Integrity Florida proved that there's a crying need for a good-government, nonpartisan organization in the Sunshine State.

Although a damning grand jury report published in December of 2010 revealed a wide scope of public corruption in Florida, it took Integrity Florida — more than a year later — to revive that document and call for major ethics reform in Tallahassee.

There have been consistently similar vital reports, so when it became public knowledge that Integrity Florida's most recent study — a take down on Enterprise Florida's contracting process — was sponsored by the Koch brothers-funded Americans For Prosperity, you can imagine the research institute's integrity took a blow.

As reported by the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald, former Times editorial member Martin Dyckman has resigned from Integrity Florida because it creates the "perception that a well-researched report is an attack by Americans For Prosperity."

I reached out to Dan Krassner, Integrity Florida's chief, and he said, "Integrity Florida is honored to have such a broad and diverse group of supporters. We have found that building partnerships where there is common ground with different groups is a meaningful way to bring people together for policy results."

In case you're unfamiliar with Americans for Prosperity, it is a conservative political advocacy group with a mission of "educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing citizens as advocates in the public policy process."

Before last November's election, it was calculated that Americans for Prosperity spent $36.7 million in the 2012 election cycle, 95 percent of it against President Obama.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in support of Obama's health care plan last summer, Americans for Prosperity announced a $9 million spending spree to denounce the decision.

The report blasted Enterprise Florida. From the executive summary:

In addition to illustrating the failure to meet legislative expectations, this report documents Enterprise Florida’s apparent conflicts of interest, the appearance of a pay-to-play scheme for winning favorable treatment and its repeated practice of picking winners and losers in the marketplace through targeted business, favoritism, and selective incentive deals.

This report does not find that any business or corporation named in the report has done anything illegal or at all wrong by seeking incentives from Enterprise Florida or by serving on its Board. In fact, the companies included in the report are some of Florida’s best corporate citizens. Working within the existing Enterprise Florida model of “economic development” to gain a competitive advantage in the market place would be expected of a company that wants to succeed and grow in this state.

What this report examines is the results of current policy as enacted by Florida’s elected officials that has resulted in years of failed objectives, waste, and at least the appearance of conflicted interests. We have to ask — what are Florida’s taxpayers getting in return for Enterprise Florida’s investments and do these deals amount to anything more than corporate welfare?

Undoubtedly it's hard for groups like Integrity Florida to survive without searching for funding to pay for research and staffers' salaries. The recent news about the Collins Center shutting down is testament to the difficulties. But taking money from Americans for Prosperity is a big blow to the institute's reputation.

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