By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
ST. PETERSBURG — Citrus products and airplane parts may be the most well-known exports from the state of Florida, but if 2012 is any indiciation, political corruption may overtake both in the new year.
That’s the ruling from Judicial Watch‘s “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians of 2012,” which rounds out its list with two Florida politicans, Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, District 16, and former Republican U.S. Rep. David Rivera.
The list examines public officials of both parties for their ties to ethics investigations and criminal prosecutions, including such names as U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Illinois, Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Sen. Robert Mendendez, D-N.J.
“Florida is a big state, so it’s a number game. The bigger the state, the more politicians that have opportunities for corruption,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a political accountability organization based in Washington, D.C. “The government is spending so much money that the temptation to hold sway over where that money goes and direct it in inappropriate ways is just so great.”
Citing Florida’s examples, he said that the Federal Elections Commission pursed Buchanan incessantly over allegations that he pressured his employee to lie about a scheme to launder money from Buchanan’s car dealerships to his political campaign, a charge under investigation by the FBI, according to CNN reports.
“Vern Buchanan represents a problem for the national party in that he’s a major fundraiser,” Fitton said.
“In his disclosure statements for 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, Buchanan failed to report all of his positions or ownership interests in six entities and income received from the entities,” Judicial Watch wrote in its report.
So far, however, there have been no charges brought against Buchanan, and all ethics probes have been dropped.
“They obviously were unaware that Vern was cleared by the Department of Justice and Ethics Committee, as well as the FEC,” said Max Goodman, spokesman for Buchanan’s office. They did not have any other comments.
Rivera, who was defeated in his congressional re-election bid in November by Democratic newcomer Joe Garcia, receives mention by the organization for his personal dealings with casino lobbyi, as well as an alleged plant candidate funded by Rivera who ran in the Democratic primary last fall.
Rivera served in the Florida Legislature from 2001 until his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2010.
In October 2012, the Florida Ethics Commission found “probable cause” that Rivera violated state ethics laws 11 times during his time as a state legislator, mostly stemming from his consulting work for Millennium Marketing, a firm tied to promoting a Miami-Dade referendum in support of grand-scale casino legalization.
Rivera is under investigation by the FBI for allegedly funding the campaign of Democrat Justin Lamar Sternad in the 2012 Democratic Party primary. Sternad is a hotel employee who admitted to being a puppet candidate for the GOP lawmaker.
But now that Rivera is out of Congress, his problems may leave a more lasting impact for his well-publicized allies.
“Rivera represents more of a problem for Sen. Marco Rubio, his good friend, who has really defended him,” said Fitton, noting the intial ties to Rivera which may have sunk Rubio’s shot at the vice presidential nomination for the GOP.
Rivera was not available for comment on this matter.
“It’s a temptation that appeals to politicians of both parties,” Fitton said. “But certainly the Republican Party has not done as well a job as it should have of weeding these types of individuals out before they get to federal office.”
Contact Yaël Ossowski, Watchdog.org’s Florida Bureau Chief, at [email protected]