'Do nots' in Richard Corcoran's Florida House have lawmakers tied up in knots

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times

By Steve Bousquet

Published December 14, 2016


Florida's official tourism slogan in the '80s was, "The rules are different here."

The same slogan might apply to the Florida House, where Speaker Richard Corcoran has pushed for new rules to control politicians' behavior in ways that are unique and not yet clear, even to some of them.

The guiding principle in state ethics laws is that public office is a public trust and that officeholders must be independent and impartial.

Every House member voted for the new rules, but some either didn't read them closely or were not sure what they were voting for. Lawmakers lobbed a flurry of questions at the House's top lawyer at an ethics seminar last week during two days of training in Tallahassee.

Attorney Adam Tanenbaum called them the "do nots" and said: "That's the nature of the beast."


Do not engage in insider dealing, engage in nepotism or accept anything of value from lobbyists or their clients.


"Don't ask and don't take," Tanenbaum said.

Speaker Richard Corcoran is pushing new ethics rules.

Do not solicit or accept campaign money during the session.

Do not take a job with a public entity or from anyone who gets state money without filing a disclosure form.

Do not accept money to lobby before a city or county government. That's illegal now.

Do not represent clients before any state agency.

Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, one of several CPAs in the Legislature, learned that the new rules mean he can't personally file his clients' tax returns with the state Department of Revenue.

Somebody else in the firm must do that now.

Rep. Brad Drake, who represents five small counties in the Panhandle, was told he should not let local Republican parties use his name for fundraising during the session, such as traditional Lincoln Day dinners, because the rules have long prohibited soliciting money when the Legislature is meeting.

"That sounds an awful lot like soliciting," Tanenbaum told Drake, who later told the Times/Herald he'll probably skip those events altogether.

Corcoran says the rules will make the Florida House "more accountable (and) more professional," as he wrote in a recent op-ed column for the Tampa Bay Times.

Attorney Tanenbaum urged lawmakers to ask general questions and not be "fact-specific," but some did not heed his advice.

First-term Rep. Roy Hardemon said he meets with local homeowners' associations in his Miami district where he said it's common for them to offer baked cookies as a gesture of hospitality.

But if that group has a lobbyist, Hardemon was told, he can't touch those cookies under a gift ban passed a decade ago.

Another new rule bans House members from flying on private planes owned, leased or procured by lobbyists or their clients, regardless of whether the lawmaker pays.

Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, asked if her husband can fly on a lobbyist's plane.

After a long sigh, Tanenbaum told her: "There are a lot of things that members can't do and spouses can't do, and that's under the law and the rules. … It would be best if the spouse did not fly on the plane."

Later, when Tanenbaum reminded lawmakers that gifts from relatives are legal but that gifts from lobbyists are illegal, first-term Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, asked: "So, if we marry a lobbyist, we can fly on their plane?"

Said the lawyer: "Come see me.