Ethics Board finds probable cause for Fried’s disclosures
The Florida Ethics Commission said on Wednesday that Agriculture Commissioner and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried was likely to have violated state financial disclosure laws after being accused of ” misreporting lobbyist income.
An ethics complaint filed in June, days after Fried filed for papers to run for governor as a Democrat, was filed by Leon County Republican President Evan Power, who is also a top–leading member of the Florida GOP. In the document, he alleged that Fried failed to properly disclose the more than $ 400,000 she had earned as a medical marijuana lobbyist through consulting firm Igniting Florida.
On May 28, four days before filling out his papers to challenge Governor Ron DeSantis, Fried’s campaign amended two separate financial disclosure forms reporting income for 2017 and 2018 to reflect a significant discrepancy in his income. A form relating to 2018, when she first ran for the state agriculture commissioner, was amended to increase her income from $ 72,000 to $ 351,480. On the second form, starting in 2017, his campaign increased his income amount from $ 84,000 to $ 165,761.
The Fried Modified Forms must be completed by all elected constitutional officers and candidates to disclose assets, liabilities, equity, and sources of income over $ 1,000. According to a Florida Ethics Commission rule, a person can change a declaration of financial interests “at any time after completing the disclosure form.” If a complaint is lodged, the candidate or elected official has 30 days to modify the form.
Although Power claims Fried did not disclose lobbying work for consulting firm Colodny Fass in 2017 and 2018, the panel’s investigative report confirms that the Florida Lobbyists Registration and Compensation Office does not does not show that Fried was registered as a lobbyist for the firm during this period. period of two years and that she received no salary from them. She was last registered as a lobbyist for Colodny Fass in 2016.
Once probable cause has been found, the person accused of an ethics violation has the right to a public hearing or trial where evidence can be presented. Hearings are held by an administrative judge from the Administrative Hearings Division. Alternatively, the person can also resolve the issue through a stipulated settlement reached with a commission lawyer.
Probable cause is not a definitive determination that a violation has occurred. In either case, the matter has yet to come back to the ethics committee, which will determine whether the person has broken the law and then agree on a sanction.
Wednesday’s announcement, while not final, is sure to add fire to Republican critics of Fried, who claim Fried maliciously concealed his work with the marijuana industry. Fried is one of the top contenders for the Democratic nomination in a primary race that also includes U.S. Representative Charlie Crist and Florida Senator Annette Taddeo.
Fried’s campaign has previously denied Power’s claims and explained that the change was due to a “misclassification” that led her to fail to provide information on other assets additional to her net income. Fried said she only became aware of the problem in May 2021 after speaking with her accountant and decided to change it.
Drew Godinich, Fried’s campaign press secretary, called the decision “politically motivated and unfounded” and said the ethics committee should denounce the complaint, which he called a “sham”.
“Commissioner Fried is under attack for obeying the law and showing transparency, the exact opposite of what Republican Ron DeSantis and his cronies do every day,” Godinich said in a statement, calling Power “responsible for the Party. disgraced republican âwho filed aâ false and fraudulent ethics complaint.
The amended disclosure forms aren’t the only issues surrounding Fried’s finances since she launched her gubernatorial campaign this summer. She also filed a disclosure form two months after the July 1 deadline, a day before Florida law imposed a fine of $ 25 per day for failing to meet the deadline. The form showed that her net worth was approaching $ 1 million and that she had a significant stake in a large marijuana company.
Her campaign said she would sell her stake in the company if she was elected governor.
Meanwhile, DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw said she had not reviewed the complaint or supporting documents related to Fried’s ethics complaint and would not “speculate on the outcome. Complaints”.
However, she offered four paragraphs as “background” and in those paragraphs she detailed what Fried said as income in the financial disclosure forms and noted how these reports “generally generated critical media coverage and raised questions. from Fried’s opponents â.
âAnd these facts are not in dispute,â said Pushaw. “It is therefore surprising that Fried spokesman Drew Godinich issued a statement dismissing the ethics complaint as ‘false information’, ‘politically inspired’ and a ‘nuisance’ not warranting further investigation. thorough. He did not specify what exactly is “wrong”.
When asked why the governor’s office was quick to respond to Fried’s case but remained silent on an ethics case involving a non-party candidate accused of breaking campaign finance laws in Aiming to sway a Miami election in favor of a Republican candidate, Pushaw said she was reacting to claims by Fried’s campaign spokesperson – not to the conclusions of her case.
“I don’t believe our office reacted to the conclusion of either case,” Pushaw said. “My comment for you [Miami Herald] was a reaction to Fried’s spokesperson’s inflammatory and false statement in response to the discovery of a probable cause.
In October, DeSantis received a complaint from the Florida Ethics Commission recommending that he fined a Miami non-party candidate $ 20,000 and formally reprimand him for breaking campaign finance laws. including accepting money from a former Miami state senator and Republican agent, Frank Artiles. , before qualifying to compete in a 2020 State Senate race.
Rodriguez and Artiles face criminal charges in Miami in connection with the alleged electoral ploy. They were charged in March. DeSantis has yet to comment on the ethics or the criminal case, or the allegations.
Pushaw said last week that the non-party candidate’s ethics record was still pending review.
This story was originally published 8 December 2021 4:55 pm.