Revealing Dirty Money - What California can learn from Florida about elected officials' financial disclosures

The row between California Governor Gavin Newsom and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over the last few years is well documented. That row culminated late last year when the two governors shared a stage with Fox News' Sean Hannity for a debate that was more like a gotch-ya session.

Regarding governance, the two states are opposites. Depending on your political perspective, Florida and California are said to be headed in the wrong or right direction.

Regardless of their differences, there is one piece of legislation signed into law last year by DeSantis that California should emulate. That legislation was Florida's Senate Bill 774, "Ethics Requirements for Public Officials."

The bill, which was almost unanimously supported in the Florida Senate and House (how rare these days), tightens financial disclosure requirements for "commissioners of community redevelopment agencies to complete annual ethics training; requiring specified local officers and members of the Commission on Ethics to file full and public disclosures."  

The legislation requires previously exempt "mayors and elected members of the governing body of a municipality to join county, state, and other elected officials in filing a more comprehensive financial disclosure form."   

According to this report from WPTV News, "Leaders have to disclose their net worth, the value of each asset, liability and income sources over $1,000, plus their most recent federal tax returns." Previously, they only had to report amounts over $10,000.

Steep fines for non-compliance can be imposed. WCJB reports that officials who don't comply in a timely manner "face late fines of $25 a day up to $1,500. Form violations could result in impeachment, suspension, removal, and fines up to $20,000.

Not surprisingly, the tightened disclosure requirement has resulted in the widespread resignation of local elected officials, calling the law onerous. Higher-level elected officials are already mandated to make extensive financial disclosures. 

By comparison, California elected officials have a relatively loose requirement. California law mandates office holders and many government officials to file an annual California Form 700 Statement of Economic Interest. However, the reporting requirements are lax in comparison to Florida's standards. 

The California Fair Political Practices Commission enforces compliance. However, politicians and critics alike view that agency as a toothless tiger imposing minor fines.

As it relates to Elk Grove, a Florida-like law in California would confirm or refute longstanding rumors about financial improprieties of several current and former office holders and some bureaucrats for the city of Elk Grove, the Cosumnes Community Services District, Florin Resources Conservation District (Elk Grove Water), and Elk Grove Unified School District. This sort of disclosure could kill or confirm longstanding rumors about illegal activities and the behaviors of one current officeholder in particular. 

While Florida generates unsavory things like Moms for Liberty, book bans, and the Don't Say Gay law, Senate Bill 774 shows even a very partisan state can pass a bipartisan law to keep officeholders accountable to their constituents. 

Photos by CottonBro Studio via Pexels.

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