As Gov. Ron DeSantis vows to clean up Washington if elected president, dozens of ethics orders seeking to punish the misdeeds of Florida politicians have been languishing on his desk in Tallahassee.
The Republican governor hasn’t signed an ethics order since Jan. 28, 2021, according to his official website. Until he takes action, politicians and public employees won’t have to fork over thousands of dollars in fines, even if they settled their ethics cases and admitted wrongdoing.
The list of ethics charges includes a former Orange County commissioner who failed to disclose she had a financial interest in a vote. Another case involves a Manatee County commissioner who made headlines for adding herself and four others to a VIP list for the COVID-19 vaccine when it was in short supply.
The backlog signals that Florida isn’t serious about enforcing ethics laws, said Ben Wilcox, research director at Integrity Florida, a government watchdog group.
“It is a bad message to public officials out there that they can maybe get away with violations of Florida’s ethics laws,” he said.
Forty-two pending orders recommending penalties await the governor’s action, according to an Aug. 24 report from Kerrie Stillman, executive director of the Florida Commission on Ethics.
Under Florida law, fines can’t be collected in those cases until DeSantis signs off on the commission’s recommended penalties, said Lynn Blais, a spokeswoman for the ethics commission.
“The commission has no power to impose its recommended penalties,” she said. “Only after it is imposed is the attorney general’s office able to collect.”
‘Start doing his job’
One of those recommended orders involves former Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey, who voted to steer about $100,000 in county money to an engineering firm that was also paying her in an undisclosed conflict.
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