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No Senate confirmation? No problem for Moms for Liberty boss on Florida Commission on Ethics

senate confirmation
Florida’s Commission on Ethics in session on Dec. 1, 2023. Commissioner Tina Descovich is third from the right.

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org

The fix, as they say, is in.

Typically, it’s hard to know for sure before events play out. But in the matter of Florida Senate confirmation for Gov. Ron DeSantis’s pick to sit on the Florida Commission on Ethics – Moms for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich – the proof is in the state’s corrupt, somewhat-hidden process.

Hidden because nowhere on the Florida Commission on Ethics website, among its plethora of rules and instructions to the public on how to file a complaint, is there any discussion of how to file an ethics complaint against one exotic breed of public servant: ethics commissioners themselves.

Robert Burns, 40, a disabled Iraq war Army veteran and editor-in-chief of the Melbourne-based nonprofit The Space Coast Rocket, found that out the hard way when he filed a sworn complaint against Descovich with the commission while her Senate confirmation was pending.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Tina Descovich

He wrote it after watching Descovich testify and answer questions Feb. 26 before the Republican-dominated Senate Ethics and Elections committee. The committee immediately recommended her approval to the full Senate on a 9-3 party line vote.

A COMPELLING CASE

The complaint makes a compelling case for why Descovich is unfit to serve. Among other things, Burns wrote, the conservative Moms for Liberty pays her to lobby for its controversial goals, including “fighting for the survival of America” by opposing public health measures, supporting book bans and resisting teaching about race, ethnicity and LBGT rights.

Ethics commissioners are prohibited from lobbying state and local governments.

Before filing, Burns read the commission’s  “IMPORTANT INSTRUCTIONS FOR COMPLETING A COMPLAINT FORM”. He then mailed his complaint to the commission’s Tallahassee address, sending courtesy copies to Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and ethics committee members to make sure they were aware before the final vote on Descovich’s nomination.

The Senate’s duties include pondering and voting on whether to approve hundreds of gubernatorial appointees to a wide variety of state, regional and local posts – ranging from cabinet secretaries to the governing boards of barbers and cosmetologists to members of the ethics commission. Most are routinely approved.

Robert Burns

Like many political appointees, ethics commissioners aren’t paid for their work judging complaints brought against state officers, employees and lobbyists. But the post sure looks good on a resume.

The Senate considers confirmation during the first regular legislative session after someone is appointed. Descovich, having successfully navigated the Ethics and Elections Committee, appeared on track for confirmation to her seat on the ethics commission before Burns’s complaint landed in Tallahassee and Florida Bulldog reported about it. As a result, the Senate took no action on her nomination, failing to confirm her as expected.

SENATE PRESIDENT PASSIDOMO SPEAKS

At a “press availability” on March 7, Passidomo, R-Fort Myers, offered this odd explanation of events for the lack of Senate confirmation.

“She was appointed sort of late in the process. [Desantis announced her appointment on Sept. 6, 2023.] And one of our senators in committee expressed concerns about her appointment. [Following a hearing at which Descovich testified, three Democratic senators on the ethics committee voted against her.] When we looked at it, we realized it’s a two-year process. [Huh?] The governor could reappoint her. So we didn’t feel a pressure to do anything…Some citizen made, said he was going to file a complaint and turned it in – politicized our process. And that troubles me because that’s not what we do. So we put it on hold. And if the governor reappoints her, then she’ll come back. It’ll give us an opportunity to get through the whole process.”

Thus, Passidomo condemned the filing of a meticulous ethics complaint as politicizing the Senate confirmation process. She also brushed off her responsibility to investigate its allegations, passing the buck to the next Senate president if Descovich is reappointed.

senate confirmation
Senate President Kathleen Passidomo: ‘We didn’t feel a pressure to do anything.’

And Descovich will be reappointed. A spokeswoman for the governor announced that immediately. No need to investigate or even read Burns’s complaint, apparently.

The bottom line: By the time the Legislature reconvenes on March 4, 2025, Descovich will have served nearly 18 months – nearly a full two-year term – despite failing to win Senate confirmation.

PASSIDOMO SPEAKS AGAIN

Moments later, a reporter asked Passidomo if she thought ethics commissioner Descovich has a conflict of interest when she lobbies the Legislature.

“First of all, that has not been documented to me. That has been an allegation. An individual has said they’re going to file a complaint to that effect. If a complaint is filed, it’s gotta go to me and the Speaker and I haven’t seen it yet,” Passidomo said. She went on to add, “This whole scenario basically shows why we need the ethics bill that we have filed with regard to hearsay and anonymity and whatever. I mean it derails the process to have people politicize it. It really does. And I’m not going to listen to the politics of it. So if somebody files a complaint, my successor next year will investigate it under our rules.”

That quote needs some unpacking.

First, it means that Burns should have filed his ethics complaint with the Legislature’s two top officers, not the ethics commission. Passidomo was referring to a special complaint procedure that applies only to “any member or employee of the Commission on Ethics.” That exception to the rules isn’t disclosed or discussed on the commission’s public website. Rather, it’s tucked into Florida Statute112.324. Item 10.

Under that law, complaints about ethics officials are to be filed only with the Senate president and House speaker. “Each presiding officer shall, after determining that there are sufficient grounds for review, appoint three members of their respective bodies to a special joint committee who shall investigate the complaint,” the law says.

A PROCESS WITHOUT A PLAN

Members elect a chair. But the law gives the committee no specific authorities, like the power to subpoena records and witnesses. Nor does it contemplate funding to hire experienced staff to investigate or pay other costs. Instead, it anticipates that the committee’s chosen sleuths, senators and representatives, will don deerstalker hats as they have a go at detecting the truth.

Should the committee find “probable cause to believe a violation has occurred, the chair shall transmit such findings to the Governor, who shall convene a meeting of the Governor, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to take such final action on the complaint as they shall deem appropriate.” If, and only if a majority of that group asks, “the special joint committee shall submit a recommendation as to what penalty, if any, should be imposed.”

The law doesn’t discuss how much of this special process, if any, the public should be allowed to see.

Burns told Florida Bulldog he’ll soon refile his complaint against Descovich with the Senate president and House speaker even though he realizes now that the process is a closed loop. It comes back to the same trio who choose all nine of the ethics commission’s members: the Senate president, House speaker and governor.

Then there’s Passidomo’s disparaging crack about “this whole scenario basically shows why we need the ethics bill” that now awaits only the governor’s signature to become law. Common Cause Florida calls CS/SB 7014 “dangerous” because, among other things, it will “make it nearly impossible for Floridians to file ethics complaints.” Why? Because the bill requires “personal knowledge” of a violation to file a complaint and initiate an investigation.

“The only people who have ‘personal knowledge’ of a violation of the law are those who are committing the violation or those likely to be involved in the violation,” Common Cause wrote in a press release calling on DeSantis to veto the bill.

AN ETHICS COMMISSION AS CORRUPT AS IT WANTS TO BE

Passidomo seems to think that Burns’s complaint is mere hearsay. She should read it.

Florida’s Commission on Ethics was created by constitutional authority. Its motto comes from the stirring words in the Constitution: “A Public Office is a Public Trust.” But the rules under which it operates, including the state’s sometimes deficient Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees, were drawn up separately by legislators looking out for their own.

As has been shown before, the ethics commission is corrupt when it wants to be. Sometimes we know when a case is rigged, and sometimes we likely don’t know.

Robert Burns received the ethics commission’s response to his complaint about Descovich on March 11. Commission executive director Kerrie Stillman tersely explained that “complaints filed against a member of the Commission must be filed with the President of the Florida Senate and the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.”

Nothing in the law prevented Stillman from forwarding the complaint directly to those two legislators. She chose not to do that courtesy.

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Comments

5 responses to “No Senate confirmation? No problem for Moms for Liberty boss on Florida Commission on Ethics”

  1. Edward Crespo Avatar

    The words “ethics” and “Florida” should NEVER be used in the same sentence! It’s an oxymoron! Conversely, “corruption” and “Florida” go hand in hand! Florida is the fraud and corruption capital of the United States when it comes to politics, back room deals, fraudulent healthcare companies, dirty fraud-perpetrating cops, (the Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies involved in the PPP scandal), and ESPECIALLY in our so-called “system of justice” in the Florida courts! I’m a Republican, (God bless Donald Trump, our next President), but the Governor’s Office gives me pause!

    Kerrie Stillman, the executive director of the Florida Commission on Ethics is the female version of Blan Teagle, the executive director of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, the state agency that COVERS THE ASSES of prejudiced, corrupt circuit and appellate court judges by summarily DISMISSING valid, well-supported JQC Complaints – simply because they CAN! MANY former and current civil litigants out there know exactly what I’m talking about! (Emphasis added).

    The Florida Bar is equally as corrupt as the rest! Errant lawyers are NOT disciplined, even when the record evidence of their Bar Rule violations is undeniable! Bar Complaints are summarily DISMISSED and the greedy, crooked, lying lawyers simply continue their pattern of misconduct!

    One bunch of lawyers, (Bar Counsels), supposedly disciplining their fellow lawyers and one bunch of judges being led by Blan Teagle, supposedly disciplining their fellow judges! SERIOUSLY!

    That’s like putting a bank robber on trial with a jury made up of nothing but OTHER bank robbers!

  2. Florida under the DeSantis far-right regime is the vanguard of a Viktor Orban inspired government.
    If the people of Florida swallow it, perhaps it can spread throughout the U.S. with or without trump.
    Look at regimes’ takeover of New College in Sarasota, the control of the judiciary, and both houses in Tallahassee.
    If the people don’t wake up, our democracy will die, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

  3. Jaimie Hileman Avatar
    Jaimie Hileman

    Florida is already a fascist state, as are at least 21 of the 27 GOP controlled states. I’m not sure America can be saved. I’m increasingly concerned that when Trump seizes power in January he will immediately surrender to Russia. There’s only an upside for him personally in such an eventually, and as a malignant pathological narcissist, he lives in a pocket universe, population ONE.

  4. Leftists like Robert Killough (Kill-all) define democracy as a morally bankrupt coalition of socialist who demand censorship for any discussion or debate that does not endorse their perverted views of life. The government in Florida is elected and thus, mandated to represent the views of those who elected them. The people performing the elections are known as citizens. Florida is a great place to live and exercise one’s freedom. Kill-All considers Viktor Orban to be ‘far right’ although he has been one of the few EU and NATO member states to advocate for peace and negotiations while the majority of EU states tow the line for Biden’s regime to advocate for war, death and the constant flow of arms to escalate war. Russia poses no threat to Europe but is sick of hostile NATO expansion with missiles on their borders.

  5. bctsignalnine (ret) Avatar
    bctsignalnine (ret)

    Does Edward Crespo ever shut up?

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