At the end of the Center for Public Integrity's latest corruption report card, readers are invited to send an email to their elected state legislators based on address and zip code.Who is surprised?
The Florida Sunshine Law, as open records and meetings regulations have come to be known, has long been a source of chest-thumping in Tallahassee. “Florida is proud to lead the nation in providing public access to government meetings and records,” brags the Office of the Attorney General on its website.
But for some, the law seems not to apply.
Over the past several years, the rich and powerful in Florida have seemed far less accountable to open government laws than the drug-addled and hapless. So while the public is welcome to read about how a spring breaker bit off a hamster’s head, nobody was supposed to learn about how Gov. Rick Scott ousted a top law enforcement official behind closed doors, potentially violating the state’s open meetings law.
When somebody got stabbed during confusion involving harmonicas, it was everyone’s business. Meanwhile, public figures are free to hide hundreds of millions of dollars in blind trusts and dodge public scrutiny over conflicts of interest.
In 2014, 75% of Florida voters approved an amendment to the Florida constitution in order to provide a dedicated source of funding -- immune from tampering by the governor and legislature -- to buyout lands in private ownership like Big Sugar's, critical to restoring the Everglades and protecting the drinking water of millions of South Floridians. What did the legislature do last year to reflect the will of the people? Nothing. NADA.
The do-nothing legislature has tied itself in knots avoiding the will of the people expressed through another constitutional amendment, supported by more than 60 percent of voters: Fair Districts. Despite special legislative sessions and endless litigation strategies costing taxpayers tens of millions, has the GOP majority come even close to meeting a roadmap established by multiple state supreme court decisions? Nope. NOPE.
The Miami Herald recently reported on the public corruption associated with Dade Medical College and the litany of elected officials who groveled at its campaign finance spigot. Dade Medical College was a scam operation that exploited hundreds of Miami-Dade families and aspiring young people. Have any of the elected officials who took money from the college for their political campaigns stood up and apologized to voters? Nope. NOPE.
When Gov. Rick Scott and his cabinet, including sycophants Ag. Secretary Adam Putnam and Atty General Pam Biondi, had a chance to side with people against FPL's plan to site two new nuclear power plants at Turkey Point -- to cost customers over $20 billion if they are ever built -- they put on blinders and took sleeping pills. When they awoke, did they recognize the public's valid arguments and evidence of fiscal insanity in the plan for new nuclear at sea level in the region of the nation most vulnerable to climate change? Nope. NOPE.
When the state legislature had the chance to nix early cost recovery, through which FPL earns hundreds of millions -- enriching top shareholders and executives -- the legislature voted, "Of course we will help you, FPL, continue to rake in profits from planning nuclear reactors that may never be built." It also became state policy to deny global warming.
The Center for Public Integrity organized an online email response to Florida's dismal rating. At the click of a submit button on the keyboard, it sent my email appeal to two elected officials squarely in the middle of overt and covert forms of political corruption: Erik Fresen, a Republican, and Gwen Margolis, a Democrat. For many years, Senator Margolis was a leader of the unreformable majority of the Miami-Dade County Commission, on the side of developer friends and family. Fresen, only a few years ago delegated by the casino industry to change state law, is also haplessly tied to the same for-profit educational disaster that turned the promise of charter schools into yet another of Florida's wealthy, insulated industries inclined to manipulate the public interest for private gain.
Where there is hope, it lies with a new generation of activists who are unafraid of confronting the status quo in Miami-Dade. They need to quicken the pace of recruiting competent candidates for elected office and back up their choices with enthusiastic organization and follow-through. It is tough, difficult work but evidence is on their side. The FBI calls South Florida the corruption capital of the United States. Voters know it is true. Younger voters need to mobilize and send packing every elected official who looked the other way, during a time when shifting the cost of public corruption to taxpayers became institutionalized.