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Multiple ethics violations in Florida are still waiting for DeSantis' signature

Ron DeSantis speaking at the podium
Gaston De Cardenas
Gov. Ron DeSantis has over 40 ethics violations to sign off on, according to a report from the Florida Commission on Ethics. The oldest case dates back over seven years.

The Florida Commission on Ethics released a report showing dozens of outstanding ethics violations still await Gov. Ron DeSantis' signature. The oldest recommendation dates back over seven years.

Over forty ethics violations by officials throughout the state have not yet been finalized, according to a recent report from the Florida Commission on Ethics. The oldest dates back over seven years.

For the commission's recommended penalties to be imposed, Gov. Ron DeSantis must first sign off on them.

Aubrey Jewett is a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. He said the backlog of ethics violations is not a "good look" for the governor.

"Critics will point out and say, 'Well, the governor's got time to run all over the country raising money for his presidential campaign, he's got time to go to Iowa over and over again. But he doesn't seem to have time to take care of the basic duties and responsibilities of the governor here in Florida,'" Jewett said.

The last time DeSantis signed off on any violations was in January 2021.

But this isn't the first time the governor has allowed the ethics backlog to grow. In early 2020, the number of outstanding violations climbed to nearly 30, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

"(DeSantis) says that he's going to be tough on crime, or that he's going to "clean the swamp" of ethics problems and this sort of thing when he gets to Washington, DC," Jewett said. "But he doesn't take any action at all here in Florida for more than two and a half years over people who have been charged with ethics violations, some of whom have admitted guilt, and others who have been found guilty."

Through the years, Jewett said Florida traditionally has had good ethics laws in place and taken actions to make them tougher.

"But of course, that's just one part of the equation, right? You can have all the rules and laws on the books that you want," he said.

"But if they're not enforced, if they're not implemented, then that's going to breed some disrespect for the law and feed into the image that you can get away with things in Florida."

Ben Wilcox is a research director with Integrity Florida, a non-profit watchdog group that works to expose public corruption.

He said that violations of ethics laws are treated differently than criminal violations of the law.

Someone first has to file a sworn complaint with the ethics commission, which then makes a decision if the claim is "legally sufficient."

If so, the commission then conducts an investigation and decides whether probable cause exists.

From there it goes to a settlement phase where eventually a recommendation is rendered.

"Even in cases where the person admits that they did violate the the ethics law, then it still has to go to the governor's office for the penalty to be enforced," Wilcox said.

Penalties can range from fines and public reprimands, all the way up to removal from office.

Wilcox added the backlog of violations is "mind-boggling."

"It's just sending a really bad message to public officials and to the public in Florida," Wilcox said. "That Florida is not serious about enforcing its ethics laws."

A spokesperson from the Florida Commission on Ethics said the outstanding violations have no statute of limitations.

The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.