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Opinion

DeSantis Neuters Ethics Commission

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Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 7014 into law, effectively gutting the only accessible corrective mechanism Floridians have at their disposal when their elected officials engage in unethical behavior. The law, which is already in effect, prevents the Florida Commission on Ethics from acting on a complaint unless the person filing it has “personal knowledge or information other than hearsay” about the allegation(s).

I've kept an eye on this bill since it was passed by the legislature—with the full support of your Manatee County delegation. I had hoped that the governor would at least allow it to expire after a coalition of state watchdog groups sent him a measured, well-articulated letter as to how it "creates an unreasonable barrier and deterrent for members of the public seeking to assist the commission with ethics enforcement," adding, "This bill allows unethical conduct to continue unchecked, thereby diminishing public trust in the Sunshine State."

As DeSantis is prone to do when signing an indefensible bill into law, he waited until 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night to announce it after skipping the usual ceremony and signing it behind closed doors. The "personal knowledge" clause also makes it impossible for a citizen to file a complaint or for the commission to find probable cause based on the result of investigative reporting, yet another attack on the power of the press.

As we've seen in the past, filing an ethics complaint and receiving justice, even in the most egregious instances, was already a heavy lift. But this statute raises the bar to a point where it is rendered all but toothless.

Since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Citizens United vs. the FEC that money is speech and corporations are people, citizens have had an increasingly difficult time holding their bought and paid-for "representatives" accountable via the ballot box. In Florida, tricks like the write-in loophole make it even more difficult. By neutering yet another mechanism of accountability, lawmakers are proving that they will go to any lengths to ensure that citizen participation in democracy is little more than window dressing and that they can continue serving special interests rather than representing citizens.

Run against us, and we will bury you under a mountain of baseless attack ads funded by our dark money PACs. Speak out against us, and we will use our power to make your life miserable to whatever degree we can manage. Turn whistleblower and you will be fired. Catch us breaking the rules, and we will simply laugh.

That, my friends, is the current state of democracy here in the Sunshine State.

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here.

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  • kmskepton

    Marching, albeit cowardly, straight into authoritarianism.

    Sunday, June 30 Report this

  • WTF

    Florida .... the offspring of the DC Swamp

    When people treat corruption as a routine part of the process, you have something far worse than wrongdoing or moral failing. You have a political cancer that breeds cynicism about democratic government and infects all of society.

    Edward Brooke

    Sunday, June 30 Report this

  • jimandlope

    Governor DeSantis is fond of appearing, signing or any Governor type activity without warning. He seems to successfully mask his appearances I assume so that he receives no negative feedback from citizens, press or any faction he deems , “Woke,” , gay, or of immigrant background. What a guy

    Sunday, June 30 Report this

  • WTF

    “Trust is earned, respect is given, and loyalty is demonstrated.

    Betrayal of any one of those is to lose all three.”

    ― Ziad K. Abdelnour

    Sunday, July 7 Report this