Representative Mike Fasano’s decision to shut down his committee of continuous existence and distribute its funds to various charitable organizations is but the latest example of him, literally, “putting his money where his mouth is.” A long-time advocate for governmental ethics reform, Representative Fasano’s actions are the natural next step in his years’ long effort to change the culture of the Capitol. Earlier this year he once gain filed legislation that will make needed changes to what many see as a revolving door of public service and personal gain.
Shortly after his first election victory in 1994 we traveled to Tallahassee to prepare for what would be his first legislative session. I had been to the Capitol before as both a tourist and as an advocate for the social service agency at which I was employed at the time. However, I had never been to the seat of Florida government as a state employee. Being on the so-called “inside” gave me a new perspective as I began to experience the legislative process. It was a heady and idealistic time. Most of my colleagues were equally excited at the prospect of working “in the Sunshine” to do good things for the people of Florida. There were occasional times of disillusionment, however, when a few in the process were exposed as being in it for themselves and not the public good.
Much has been done over the intervening years to “clean-up” a system that many on the outside saw as less than above board. One-time Senate President Tom Lee’s so-called “lobbyist gift ban” gained great attention at the time of its passage. However, it was but one step down a long road of needed reform that continues to be championed by concerned members such as Representative Fasano.
Representative Fasano’s legislation will put into law not only his own proposals but also recommendations made by a Grand Jury that investigated various instances of corruption. The legislation will prevent the governor and members of the Florida Cabinet from benefiting from official actions by creating Qualified Blind Trusts. By placing their assets into a blind trust, these officials will not be able to knowingly benefit financially from any actions they take in their official capacity.
“Voting conflicts by public officials, whether elected or appointed, will be prevented under this bill,” Representative Fasano remarks. “The bill prohibits voting on any measure that has the potential to financially benefit either the official or the officials’ relatives and/ or business associates. Further, the official is required to file a statement indicating the potential benefit of such a vote.”
The bill adds additional public positions to the statues which require those officials to file an annual disclosure of financial interests. It also prohibits any public employee who procures goods and services from soliciting gifts from vendors who do business with that employee’s agency. Additionally, the legislation increases from $10,000 to $100,000 the potential civil penalties levied against those who fail to meet various financial disclosure and procurement requirements.
“It is imperative that public officials at all levels be held accountable for their actions,” Representative Fasano states. “The Grand Jury presented these recommendations to the Ethics Commission. In some cases I felt that even those recommendations could be stronger. This legislation will send a clear message that public service is just that; public service. People should not run for office, or seek appointment to any public position, with the intent to enrich themselves, their families or business partners.”
Leadership in Tallahassee has expressed a willingness to address many of the issue that Representative Fasano has long been working on. Just this past week proposed legislation was debated in The Capitol that will, hopefully, join Representative Fasano’s proposal as they wend their respective ways to the House and Senate floors. Hopefully the governor’s desk will be the ultimate destination for these bills.
If you have any questions about governmental ethics, or have any suggestions of your own, please do not hesitate to leave me a comment. I will gladly respond either in a reply or an upcoming blog post. As always, thank you for your loyal readership!