Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried preemptively fired back at Florida Commission on Ethics findings regarding her financial disclosures. The Commission announced Wednesday it found probable cause Fried violated state law when she failed to initially disclose $400,000 in lobbying income when she ran for office.
“A disgraced Republican Party official filed a false and fraudulent ethics complaint against Commissioner Fried,” said Fried campaign spokesperson Drew Godinich. “Consistent with the administration’s regular practice of feeding false information to its subordinate agencies, Commissioner Fried is being attacked for following the law and showing transparency, exactly the opposite of what Republican Ron DeSantis and his cohorts do every day.”
Fried, the only Democrat holding statewide elected office in Florida, is challenging DeSantis for Governor in 2022.
Evan Power, chair of the Leon County Republican Party, filed an ethics complaint against Fried in June after the Commissioner amended her 2018 financial disclosures and revealed she earned $351,480 from Igniting Florida and her 2017 disclosures to show she made $165,671 in consulting fees, not just $84,000 as previously disclosed.
Before her election to Agriculture Commissioner, Fried worked as a lobbyist for the medical marijuana industry.
Both amendments to Fried’s disclosures were cited in a press release published by the Ethics Commission: “The Commission considered a complaint filed against Commissioner of Agriculture Nicole Heather Fried. Probable cause was found on allegations she violated Florida’s Constitution and financial disclosure law by failing to accurately disclose income on her 2017 and 2018 Form 6 disclosure filings.”
Power cheered the Ethics Commission determination.
“I commend the Florida Commission on ethics for taking the first step in holding Nikki Fried accountable for failing to be transparent with the taxpayers of Florida,” he said in a statement. “Most Floridians rightly have a hard time understanding how one could forget a quarter of a million dollars in income. Sadly, Nikki Fried and her press team have decided to attack Governor DeSantis, the Commission on Ethics, and myself rather than accept responsibility. Unfortunately, this seems par for the course for our Agriculture Commissioner who has used her position to wrongly attack the Governor while ignoring the very constituents she is supposed to be working for in Florida’s agriculture industry.”
But Godinich, while noting the income became public knowledge because Fried amended her forms, dismissed the whole process as a partisan smear. Florida law allows financial disclosures to be amended to correct errors or oversights, and Fried suggested a finding she violated the law in doing so would discourage transparency among officials in the future.
The campaign also notes Power’s complaint included many accusations that were dismissed.
“The Ethics Commission should denounce this politically inspired nuisance complaint and hold this DeSantis operative accountable for misleading the public,” he said. “Florida deserves real change and new voices, and that means passing real ethics reforms that are nonpartisan and will hold elected officials accountable for real wrongdoing — like Ron DeSantis taking cash from foreign powers.”
That appears to reference support from foreign donors like Lev Parnas, who donated $50,000 in since-refunded donations to DeSantis’ political committee and who ended up being a key player in communications between President Donald Trump and the Ukrainian government that fueled the first impeachment of Trump.
Fried’s campaign said she intends to appeal the decision to an administrative law judge. If the Ethics Commission thinks a violation has occurred, it may decide to hold a public hearing. If it concludes a violation has been committed, it may recommend civil penalties including removal from office and fines up to $10,000 per violation, according to a Commission press release.
DeSantis’ office, for its part, considered Fried’s response to the finding as laughable. DeSantis press secretary Christina Push issued a lengthy statement.
“It is a matter of public record that Commissioner Fried filed her financial disclosures months after the deadline and amended her 2018 disclosure, which revealed that her income that year was about five times higher than what she had earlier reported. Initially she had reported an income of $0 from Igniting Florida, then amended it to $72,000, and finally reported income of more than $350,000 from Igniting Florida for the same period,” Pushaw said. “Those facts have, understandably, generated some critical media coverage and raised questions from Fried’s opponents. And those facts are not in dispute. It is therefore puzzling that Fried’s spokesperson issued a statement dismissing the bipartisan commission’s finding of probable cause as ‘false information,’ ‘politically inspired,’ and a ‘nuisance’ not warranting further investigation.”
Pushaw said the allegation DeSantis or his surrogates fed any “false information” about Fried to outlets was itself a “serious, baseless, and dishonest allegation” offered without evidence.
“Most disturbingly, the rambling statement from Fried’s campaign demanded a ‘criminal investigation’ of Evan Power, who made the ethics complaint regarding Fried’s financial disclosures. It is appalling that a state official would demand a criminal investigation into a citizen in apparent retaliation for filing an ethics complaint,” Pushaw said. “Such abuses of power by government officials are sadly commonplace in socialist dictatorships like Cuba and Venezuela. These days, Democrats are increasingly adopting authoritarian tactics to silence dissent and criticism, but tyranny will never be tolerated in Florida.”