Dozens of Florida ethics cases await Ron DeSantis' signature
Forty-two ethics orders recommending penalties against Florida officials are awaiting Gov. Ron DeSantis' signature, according to a recent report from the Florida Ethics Commission.
Why it matters: The state's ethics board doesn't have the power to impose its recommended penalties, and fines against officials who violated Florida law cannot be collected until DeSantis signs off.
- DeSantis hasn't signed one since January 2021.
Zoom in: Six of the pending orders are associated with the Tampa Bay area, carrying fines of over $25,000. Those charged include a retired Hillsborough tax collector and a Manatee County real-estate developer, among others.
- One high-profile case involves Vanessa Baugh, a former Manatee County commissioner, who drew national scrutiny for organizing a "VIP" COVID vaccination site at a time of high demand.
- Another involved former Temple Terrace mayor Mel Jurado, who had exaggerated her educational credentials, touting a Ph.D. she obtained from a degree mill.
What they're saying: The backlog signals that Florida isn't serious about enforcing ethics laws, Ben Wilcox, research director at watchdog group Integrity Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel.
- "It is a bad message to public officials out there that they can maybe get away with violations of Florida's ethics laws," he added.
The big picture: DeSantis is pitching himself as a "law and order" presidential candidate — an image he's tried to reinforce with highly publicized removals of two state attorneys, whom he blasted for "dereliction of duty."
- Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political science professor and longtime Florida politics observer, told Axios that the backlog "undercuts his argument that he's tough on crime."
- "It opens the governor up to charges of being hypocritical, considering he hasn't finalized one ethics complaint in two years, including several where the people admit wrongdoing."
The other side: Jeremy Redfern, the governor's spokesman, did not respond to Axios' request for comment. We found no record of DeSantis addressing the ethics backlog in his public remarks.
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