A Vero Beach retiree who lodged ethics complaints against more than 40 state representatives, including our own state Rep. Joe Gibbons, got no satisfaction. The Florida Commission on ethics cleared Gibbons of breaking any rules about his financial disclosures, and retiree Eugene "Bucky" Benson said he could tell his remaining complaints would see the same outcome.
Gibbons said he should go after Benson for attorney's fees. He hired -- who else? -- Mark Herron to represent him.
"I think we all 45 out to get together for the legal fees,'' he said. "That's the only redress you have.''
But the 82-year-old Benson said he was just exercising his right to hold public officials accountable for the little bit of transparency that's required of them.
Gibbons was accused by Benson of withholding information when he filled out his financial disclosure form.
"I think he's one of these people who have a thing for elected officials,'' Gibbons said of Benson, whom he has never met. "Who in their spare time'' goes through financial disclosure forms "other than they have a problem?'' he asked.Here's his form. He reports having boat "docks'' -- he has two of them, and Benson complained unsuccessfully that he hadn't revealed them both. He reports that he earned $6,500 from a company called Linking Solutions. Benson complained that he didn't reveal that his wife, Ava Parker, owns the company. Gibbons said it's a community outreach company owned by her and that he has no ownership in it.
He also says he made $60,000 from Akerman Senterfitt law firm.
Benson, who filed a successful complaint two years ago against Senate President Mike Haridopolos, included in his complaint a rant about being called a harasser when he filed the complaint about Haridopolos. Haridopolos' attorney, Pete Dunbar, a former ethics commission member, had characterized him that way, according to the news media at the time.
Want to read Benson's complaint and rant?
It was that remark that inspired Benson's complaints this year, he told me.
And in his packet to the Ethics Commission, he included this email to Dunbar:
I'm still waiting for an apology from you in your defense of Mike Haridopolos. You told reporters that my complaint was typical of the harassments received by the Ethics Commission; that REALLY pissed me off! Your defendant publicly apologized in February for his 5 years of fraudulent Financial Disclosures.
The Ethics Commission in its ruling, which is right here, said Benson's "rhetorical comments'' don't "indicate a possible violation'' of ethics law.
His campaign manager is Judy Stern, the first person he said he contacted when he found out he was the subject of an ethics complaint.
Here's what Benson wrote back to the ethics commission -- an excerpt, anyway:
Just read your PUBLIC REPORT on Complaint No. 12-231. Very interesting to learn that it makes no difference whether-or-not Finances are accurately reported; that the sworn “oath” is meaningless – regardless of the Form’s instructions/requirements.
Have always known that lawyers can make any situation comply with their interpretation of same. Never thought an Ethics Commission lawyer would be so open about it; although Peter M. Dunbar did call it “harassment” of Mike Haridopolos.
The form states what is required and how to present it. And when the data are NOT presented as required, one would think a Complaint is in order. After all: Financial Disclosure & Ethics are the very heart of Florida’s “Sunshine Law”!