Want a short primer on why the Florida Legislature is steaming toward ethics reforms this year?
Consider the list of recent lawmakers who tried to parlay their Capitol access, connections or clout into gravy-train jobs.
There's former House Speaker Ray Sansom, who immediately after taking the reins of the House in 2008 took a six-figure job at a state college he'd pushed millions of dollars to as House appropriations chair.
Or former Lake Mary Rep. Chris Dorworth, who critics say lived large despite bankruptcy, thanks to a $1.1 million political fund fueled by big checks from Walt Disney World, casinos, trial lawyers, insurers and health-care companies. After he lost his re-election bid in November, he was promptly scooped up to work for Ballard Partners, one of Tallahassee's top Republican lobbying firms.
There's former Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who was hired to a faculty job at the University of Florida and paid more than $152,000 by a Brevard state college to write a book on politics while he was in the Legislature.
And most recently, there's Winter Park's House Speaker Dean Cannon, who wasn't out of office a week before setting up his own lobbying firm with former House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, and luring in big clients including Disney, the Florida Realtors, The Villages, HCA and the Florida Association of Broadcasters.
All have maintained they operated within the ethics rules governing behavior of elected officials. Sansom was indicted by a grand jury for perjury over the money he steered to a state college in Okaloosa County, but the case was dropped.
Cannon has formed a lobbying/political consulting firm called Capitol Insight, but won't register to lobby the Legislature for the current two-year "revolving door" waiting period.
He is allowed, however, to lobby the governor and executive agencies immediately. And his firm can hire someone else -- like Cretul and former Agency for Workforce Innovation Director Cynthia Lorenzo -- to lobby lawmakers now.
"If members of the Legislature decide to make any changes to these rules or laws going forward, that is certainly their right," Cannon wrote in an email.
Lawmakers appear to be well on their way. The mood this year is much like 2005, when the GOP-led Legislature banned all gifts to legislators from lobbyists after media coverage of lawmakers billing lobbyists for bar tabs, travel to casinos and other freebies.
"Periodically, we should look at these things and change them," said Sen. Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican slated to lead the chamber in 2014. "It's been seven years since we did the gift-ban. Times change."
Cashing in on connections developed as a powerful lawmaker is a time-honored tradition in Tallahassee. "But not to the extent that it's been happening lately," said Senate Ethics and Elections Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. "Increasingly, we've got more people taking advantage of trying to find loopholes to stay in the process."
Latvala's committee plans to consider an ethics bill Tuesday that, among other changes, would bar lawmakers from lobbying the governor, legislators or state agencies for two years after leaving office.
"I'm sorry he feels that way, and that he would single us out," Cretul said.
Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, suggested the lobbying ban should be longer, equal to the number of years the lawmaker served in the Legislature.
"That speaks to our credibility," said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, "that we're not just here to get good jobs, we're here to do good things."
The Senate plan also would prohibit lawmakers from taking outside jobs, such as with universities, colleges or other public employers, when they are being hired because of their access to taxpayer cash.
And it would allow garnishment of officials' wages when they don't pay ethics fines. More than $1 million in fines against public officials -- from legislators to members of obscure state boards -- were written off in the last two years because the state can't enforce collection.
GOP leaders say ethics and campaign-finance reform is needed to restore faith in elected officeholders. A Quinnipiac University poll last month found only 35 percent of Florida voters approved of the Legislature's job performance, while 44 percent disapprove, a level of unpopularity roughly on par with that of Gov. Rick Scott.
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