State targets disclosure law challenges

File photo: Attorney General Ashley Moody speaks during a press conference about the Building Stronger, Safer Cities research report at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in Ocala, Fla. on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2024.

Home » State
Posted April 4, 2024 | By Jim Saunders
Florida News Service

TALLAHASSEE — Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office is urging state and federal judges to toss out challenges to the constitutionality of a 2023 law that requires mayors and other elected municipal officials to disclose detailed information about their personal finances.

Lawyers in Moody’s office filed motions Monday arguing that the cases, filed by municipalities and dozens of elected officials from across Florida, should be dismissed.

One of the lawsuits, filed in Leon County circuit court, alleges the disclosure requirements violate privacy rights; the other lawsuit, filed in federal court in Miami, alleges violation of First Amendment rights. Both cases were filed in February, after numerous municipal officials resigned because of the law.

But in Monday’s motion to dismiss the Leon County case, the state’s attorneys disputed the privacy arguments and said financial disclosures “have been a constant for Florida politicians since the 1970s.”

“Elected municipal officials such as individual plaintiffs necessarily and purposefully amble outside of what would be the normally protected zone of privacy for the express purpose of achieving office. As a result, individual plaintiffs do not have a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ with respect to their financial information,” the motion said, partially quoting a legal precedent.

But in an amended version of the Leon County lawsuit filed March 22, attorneys for the plaintiffs said the law requires municipal officials who were in office as of Jan. 1 to “disclose quintessentially private, highly personal financial information.”

The law requires municipal officials to file what is known as a Form 6, which includes detailed information about issues such as income, assets, liabilities and net worths. State and county elected officials have long filed Form 6 disclosures, but municipal officials in the past filed what is known as a Form 1, which requires less-detailed information.

“Requiring that uncompensated (or minimally compensated) elected officials disclose their precise net worth, income and assets does not serve (let alone constitute the least restrictive means of serving) any compelling interest,” the Leon County lawsuit said. “Form 1 disclosures have for years provided sufficient transparency to inform the public of potential conflicts, prevent corruption and create public confidence in government.”

But in the state’s motion to dismiss the Leon County case, attorneys in Moody’s office described the law as Florida taking “another step in its ongoing efforts to enhance governmental ethics.”

The lawsuits name as defendants members of the Florida Commission on Ethics, which administers and enforces disclosure laws. Moody’s office represents the commission. Plaintiffs in the lawsuits include officials and communities ranging from Miami Springs to Destin.

Citing information from the Florida League of Cities, the Leon County lawsuit said more than 100 municipal officials have resigned because of the increased disclosure requirements. Officials face a July 1 deadline for filing the reports.

Lawmakers this year considered a proposal to push back the effective date of the requirements to 2025 and exempt officials in communities with 500 people or fewer. But the proposal died before the legislative session ended in March.

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