The law that protected public officials from ethical complaints arising from their blind trusts was repealed effective January 1, and a spokesperson for the agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried has indicated that it will comply with the law and file a financial disclosure that properly discloses its assets, as required.

“Commissioner Fried has established blind trust to avoid even the appearance of any conflict of interest, even if there is none,” said Eric Johnson, spokesperson for Fried’s political campaign committee, Florida Consumers First. “She fully intends to comply with all laws regarding blind trusts, which will be evident when her financial disclosure is filed, like any other elected official.”

Just months after taking the oath of office as Florida’s new commissioner of agriculture in January 2019, Fried filed a financial statement, required by Florida law, showing a sharp increase in net worth of $ 271,613. declared in 2018 to be over $ 1.4 million the following year. About $ 700,000 of that can be attributed to a house given to her by the director of marijuana, Jake Bergmann, to whom she is now engaged. How she managed to rack up the remaining $ 430,000 in income while actively campaigning for a statewide office is unclear.

Johnson declined to go into details regarding the source of Fried’s windfall in 2018, saying only Fried and his lawyers were aware of the repeal of the Blind Trust Act and that they would make an appropriate decision. in full compliance with state laws and ethical policies. Fried’s blind trust was established before the repeal was passed, and other public officials including the former governor of Florida Rick scott have used blind trusts in the past to make sure they weren’t aware of the investments they were holding while making decisions that could affect those investments.

But there is a difference between preventing a public official from knowing what investments they hold, and preventing the public from knowing how an elected official earned their income to begin with. State Senator Tom lee, who sponsored legislation last year to repeal the blind trust law, believes public officials shouldn’t be allowed to hide the original source of wealth in a blind trust, as Fried has done all along. ‘last year.

“There are more and more wealthy people looking for a job these days and I welcome them all. The experiences of their lives can do a lot for government, ”said Lee. “However, it is important for the privileged to understand that in Florida we all play by the same set of rules and, if you are ashamed of how or where you have generated your wealth, perhaps you should reconsider your ability to play. public service, ”Lee said.

Lee acknowledges that financial disclosure requirements and Sunshine laws are a drawback for public officials, especially because personal information can be used as a weapon by the media and political opponents, and it’s especially difficult for people. wealthy.

“However,” says Lee, “none of this justifies the use of a mechanism designed for the convenience of politicians at the expense of the public’s right to know.”

Under Florida law, Fried and other public officials have until July 1 to file an updated financial disclosure statement.

Brian Burgess contributed to this story.


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