TALLAHASSEE -- Public office has been good to the bottom line of many state lawmakers, for some much more than others, two new analyses of publicly available financial disclosure forms show.
Florida state senators have grown their wealth by an average of $800,000 since taking office, according to a study released Monday by the Tallahassee group Integrity Florida.
But the opposite is true for members of the Florida House, who generally have not been in office as long and have seen their investments decline thanks to the real estate bust. Their net worths — calculated as assets minus debt — have dropped about $100,000 on average.
Integrity Florida and the Times/Herald separately analyzed lawmakers’ annual financial disclosure forms, which include their sources of income, assets and liabilities.
The reports, which were designed to help the public identify conflicts of interest, did not suggest blatant violations or unfair advantages to lawmakers because of their elected office. But the fact that many politicians out-perform average Floridians has in the past raised questions about the intersect between the public and private lives of lawmakers.
“Individuals that are wealthy or growing their wealth should be commended for doing so. It would be a mistake to review financial disclosure reports and criticize lawmakers simply for the wealth they have,” said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, a group that formed in 2012 to expose public corruption. “At the same time, citizens should review lawmakers’ private financial interests and compare what is reported to their public service.”
Florida legislators earn roughly $30,000 per year for their part-time work, and most have other jobs. That means they have the opportunity to grow their wealth while in office, which, frankly, can be awkward.
For example, former Gov. Charlie Crist blasted Marco Rubio in a 2010 U.S. Senate television ad for the money Rubio made while serving in the state House. Rubio’s income grew in the 10 years he served in the House from $73,380 to $414,000.
Among the analyses’ other findings:
Disclosures lack information to identify conflicts
Integrity Florida identified at least 10 legislators who work for law firms that lobby the state, but it’s unclear what work the lawmakers do for those firms and where their private work might cross into the public world. Conflicts are especially significant because lawmakers help disburse thousands of lucrative contracts to private businesses and organizations each year.
“Most people don’t look at (the disclosure forms). I’ve never had anyone say to me ‘I don’t like the fact that you’re making money from X or Y,’ ” said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, a retired attorney who accumulated much of his $6.8 million from the sale of a lobbying firm he helped launch while he was on break from public office.
South Florida lawmakers that work for law firms that lobby include Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, Rep. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami and Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington.
Lawmakers rarely say they have a conflict
Despite their private careers, lawmakers somehow avoid issues where they could personally gain, they say.
Members are required to file financial disclosure forms when they vote on an issue from which they could benefit financially. But out of the 160-member Legislature, only 12 lawmakers filed forms during the 2012 legislative session. Of the lawmakers employed by law firms, only Joyner filed a form disclosing a conflict.