Florida Senate chief Haridopolos admonished in ethics case

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald


Published February 26, 2011


The leader of the Florida Senate, Mike Haridopolos, was admonished for failing to properly disclose his finances. Critics say the U.S. Senate candidate got off too lightly

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos was formally admonished by his own Rules Committee on Thursday for failing to accurately disclose his finances on state ethics forms.

The committee’s decision was instantly bashed by Democrats as a “whitewash” because the Republican leader, a candidate for U.S. Senate, wasn’t fined.

But the committee — whose members were all appointed by Haridopolos — said he didn’t deserve a fine because the errors were not intentional and he owned up to the mistakes when the Florida Commission on Ethics brought the matter to his attention. 

“In view of the inadvertent nature of these violations, Senator Haridopolos’ admission of error and his subsequent submission of required corrections, the Rules Committee recommends to the Senate that a letter of admonishment from the Rules Chair is an appropriate level of penalty,” read the consent decree, which was unanimously approved Thursday by the Rules Committee.

Specifically, Haridopolos failed to properly detail his investments, income, a $400,000 Mount Dora home and a consulting job that earned him $120,000 from 2004 through 2008. 

Haridopolos has repeatedly said he wasn’t trying to hide anything, and he pointed out that he failed to report his Mount Dora home just once, in the year he bought it. Haridopolos has repeatedly rapped himself for doing such a poor job filing his annual financial disclosure forms. 

As a college lecturer who teaches about government, he said he’s particularly embarrassed about violating the state Constitution, which says politicians “shall file full and public disclosure of their financial interests.”

Haridopolos, a Merritt Island Republican, apologized in writing Thursday to the Senate, the full membership of which will vote on the rules committee’s consent decree.

“While these errors on my forms have been easily corrected, I take this situation very seriously and will embrace whatever is deemed to be the appropriate penalty,” Haridopolos wrote. “I accept responsibility for these errors and apologize to the members of the Florida Senate. I have learned from this process and have gained a greater respect for the need for elected officials to remain diligent in their efforts to be transparent with the public.”

So far, though, improving the state’s ethics laws aren’t a top priority of the Senate, which has made two ballot measures of Haridopolos’ a top priority: a state spending limitation and a measure aimed at blocking President Obama’s health initiatives.

Critics have called Florida’s Commission on Ethics a “toothless tiger” and note that it has little power to investigate wrongdoing. It also is forbidden from fining legislators, but not local officials. As a result, over the decades dozens of local lawmakers have paid fines of $100 to $200 for failing to properly disclose their finances.

The last time legislators were busted over financial disclosures was in 2000, when two House members were admonished after they apologized. 

Rules chairman Sen. John Thrasher, who was House Speaker in 2000, noted the two cases Thursday in describing Haridopolos’ punishment as fair.

But the man who discovered Haridopolos’ shoddy disclosures, Vero Beach resident Eugene H. “Bucky’’ Benson, said the Senate president got off too lightly. 

“When a college professor says he didn’t read the instructions — and he just kept using his original unopposed form as a template — he is unfit to be a college professor,” Benson said in an email. “When a politician says he didn’t read the instructions, he may be telling the truth: BUT — he, too, is unfit to be in a seat of power. And, when a ‘politician turned college professor’ says those same things; he is unfit to hold either position.”

Democrats piled on by calling for Thrasher and Miami Sen. Anitere Flores to recuse themselves from the rules committee, saying both have endorsed Haridopolos’ U.S. Senate campaign and therefore had a conflict of interest.

Flores said she had a duty to vote on the matter and had no conflict. Thrasher was more blunt about whether he should have stepped down.

“Hell no,” he said. 

Senate chief's mistakes remain an issue