POLITICS

Jennifer Carroll’s inaccurate financial disclosures cited as reason for reform

 

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll followed Florida’s financial disclosure law when she revealed her work for a charity linked to Internet gambling.

But when it came to disclosing the rest of her finances, Carroll was wildly inconsistent and incomplete — with no consequences.

As a Republican state House member in 2004, Carroll listed a net worth of $271,000. The next year it ballooned to $23 million, and in 2006 it skyrocketed to more than $202 million.

But later that year, she filed an amended form that dropped two zeroes, reducing her net worth to $2.02 million

A year later it plummeted to $520,000, without any detailed explanation from Carroll or noticeable changes in her assets or liabilities.

Even though Carroll has left public office and her record-keeping is years old, ethics experts say she is a poster child for the problem of public officials not taking financial disclosure seriously enough. They also say the Legislature is on the wrong track to be considering changes to allow public officials to amend flawed forms without fear of prosecution.

Integrity Florida, an ethics watchdog group, posted Carroll’s forms on its website, integrityflorida.org.

“I saw some of the messiest forms I’ve ever seen from a public official,” said Dan Krassner of Integrity Florida. “Someone should have been asking questions.”

Every year, legislators and other elected officials must file a statement listing all assets and liabilities worth more than $1,000, and they sign an oath that the information is “accurate and complete.” But under state law, the Commission on Ethics has no power to investigate financial disclosure forms for omissions, and no one questioned Carroll’s filings.

“All we could do was look at what they called facial compliance: Was it filed under oath and did they sign it? That’s it,” said Phil Claypool, a former executive director of the state Commission on Ethics. “They’re responsible for what they report on there, and we didn’t have any authority to audit those forms as they come in. There’s still no authority for that. ... It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way things have been.”

Claypool worked for the Commission on Ethics for more than 30 years before retiring. A Tallahassee lawyer, he appeared Monday at a news conference with Integrity Florida to criticize changes to financial disclosure and other parts of ethics bills moving through the Senate and House.

Claypool was highly critical of proposed legislation that would give elected officials a 60-day grace period, from July 1 to September 1, to file a corrected financial disclosure form and be absolved of any liability even if a citizen has filed a complaint.

“What this does, however, is mean that we’ve extended the deadline, and you remove the incentive for accuracy the first time,” Claypool said. “If they’re not required to take it at least as seriously as their income tax forms, then we — the people of Florida — are not going to get accurate information timely.”

Through spokesman Rick Oppenheim, Carroll issued a statement Monday that cited on her 2006 form “a scrivener’s error where the comma was placed in the incorrect place on Form 6. The inaccurate amount of net worth reported was amended on Form 6X to reflect the actual $2.02 million in 2005. This net worth included inheritance from the death of her parents plus that of her spouse.”

Oppenheim said that on the financial disclosure form, only jointly held assets need to be reported, so that her husband’s solely owned assets should not have been included in the reported net worth. In 2006, she backed out her husband’s assets and her net worth declined.

Along the way, Carroll was vetted as a prospective running mate for Charlie Crist in 2006 and again in 2009 when Crist was considering candidates to replace U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who resigned in the middle of his term.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or 850-224-7263.

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