[UPDATE] 3-10 9:52am --
The Florida Senate formally admonished Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, for failing to fully disclose his financial holdings over a five-year span. The decision was made by the Senate Rules Committee to admonish Haridopolos earlier this year after an investigation by the state ethics commission confirmed he had failed to accurately report his financial status. Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, read a letter of admonition before the full chamber on Wednesday and also a written statement by Haridopolos admitting the error. Haridopolos said it was an inadvertent mistake. Several senators asked whether this was the appropriate punishment, suggesting it was too severe. Thrasher, the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, backed up the committee’s decision saying it was appropriate given that Haridopolos violated the Florida Constitution, and noted that there was precedence in earlier cases.
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Feb. 24, 2011 --
Senate President Mike Haridopolos should be admonished by the Senate, but pay no fine or face any other punishment for what he said was an inadvertent failure to file complete financial disclosures, a panel of senators decided Thursday.
The Senate Rules Committee unanimously agreed to recommend to the full Senate that Haridopolos be read a letter of admonition before the chamber he leads for the violation, which he has admitted, and says he has corrected.
Haridopolos was found by the state ethics commission to have failed to fully disclose his financial holdings over a five-year span, including a $325,000 Lake County home that he failed to list on his financial disclosure forms. Haridopolos, who said he mistakenly failed to update old forms, has since updated forms now on file with the commission. In addition to the house, he failed to disclose details about consulting clients.
The commission, however, has no power to punish legislators, leaving that up to the Senate that Haridopolos leads.
Rules Committee Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said Thursday that he relied on the precedent of two similar cases in the House from 2000 – coincidentally at the time that Thrasher was speaker of the House – to recommend an admonition. There hasn’t been a similar precedent setting case in the Senate in recent years, he said.
In 2000, Reps. Gus Barreiro of Miami Beach, a Republican, and Alzo Reddick of Orlando, a Democrat, faced admonishments after similar violations.
Democrats this week have blasted the Rules Committee, urging Thrasher and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who both have endorsed Haridopolos in his 2012 U.S. Senate bid, to recuse themselves from the Rules Committee vote. Democratic Party Spokesman Eric Jotkoff said in a Twitter post after the vote that a “culture of corruption rages” and said Thrasher was helping “cover up” Haridopolos’ wrongdoing.
Both Thrasher and Flores voted, joining six other Republicans in voting for the punishment, along with three Democrats.
Asked whether he should have recused himself from passing judgment on the Senate candidate he’s supporting, Thrasher responded angrily: “Hell, no,” and called Jotkoff’s charges “political crap.
“They’re used to losing, obviously,” Thrasher said of Democrats, as he left the committee.
Thrasher read into the Rules Committee record on Thursday a letter by Haridopolos acknowledging what he said were the mistakes on his forms.
“None of these mistakes were intentional or meant to hide any personal information,” Haridopolos said in the letter. “I did not adequately follow the instructions on the forms that were filed and relied on forms from previous years for consistency. All documents now on file with the ethics commission are accurate and complete….While these errors on my forms have been easily corrected, I take this situation very seriously and will embrace whatever is deemed to be the appropriate penalty.”
The actual letter of admonition isn’t written yet, and the committee made no recommendation for when it might be read to Haridopolos on the floor if the full Senate agrees with the committee’s recommendation.
A spokesman for Haridopolos said he had no comment beyond what was in the letter read to the committee. He didn’t appear before the panel on Thursday.
In addition to failing to report the House on the filings, Haridopolos also failed to report details about the clients of his MJH Consulting firm, and the clients he represented for Syntax Communications of Long Island, N.Y., which paid him $25,000 from 2004 through 2006.
The ethics complaint was filed by a voter in Haridopolos' Senate district, Eugene "Bucky" Benson, of Vero Beach. The retired engineer told the News Service of Florida earlier that he felt a fine was needed to encourage lawmakers to take financial disclosure laws seriously.