Ethics Commission finds probable cause Nikki Fried violated income disclosure law
Nikki Fried. Image via Colin Hackley.

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'Commissioner Fried is being attacked for following the law and showing transparency.'

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.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]


10 comments

  • Ron Ogden

    December 8, 2021 at 11:19 am

    The right thing, of course, would have been for her to admit her error, accept the findings in good faith, promise to learn from her mistake, and praise the process for its intent to keep the sun shining brightly in Tallahassee.
    She, of course, did the wrong thing.
    I can forgive ineptitude in filing financials–the damn things are funhouse experiences. But this is a PR flop of magnificent proportions, and it shows she is just not ready for big league baseball.
    If she had any brains at all she would quit the race, endorse the other woman running, decide whether she can save her old job (probably not) and find herself a community college presidency where she can let things cool off for a couple years.

  • Ron Ogden

    December 8, 2021 at 12:36 pm

    Nikki Fried demonstrates her inability to do public relations–and financials. The right response was to accept the commission’s finding gracefully, promise to learn from her mistakes, and praise the efforts to keep the sun shining in Tallahassee–not try to drag in Ron DeSantis’ name.
    Flubbing the arcane financial rules can be forgiven once or twice, but this kind of pr is just bush league ineptitude.

  • Impeach Biden

    December 8, 2021 at 4:47 pm

    Trust me no one misplaces that kind of dough. She is incompetent and morally corrupt.

  • Tom

    December 8, 2021 at 6:08 pm

    Yes, don’t blame Fraud.
    Total liberal, no accountability.
    Everyone else’s fault.
    Don’t blame Fraud, she’s the cannabis queen,
    What a joke. Pass the bong.

  • Impeach Biden

    December 8, 2021 at 9:02 pm

    Nikki and ethics are mutually exclusive terms.

  • Tom

    December 8, 2021 at 9:41 pm

    Tamps tribune wrote a great article on the grand issues of ethical misbehavior. Shameful abuse, highly improper with legal jeopardy.

    Compliments to the filer who stepped up.
    The financial earnings as a public office holder violate the public’s trust.

    Legislative public hearings should be held.

    Shameful.

  • Tom Palmer

    December 9, 2021 at 7:06 am

    I’d add that were response made things worse for her because it will turn a one-day story into a long running soap opera. Who advises her? btw, yes the reporting error is inexplicable.

  • Matthew Lusk

    December 9, 2021 at 12:03 pm

    As Crist quietly grins ear to ear.

  • Impeach Biden

    December 9, 2021 at 1:28 pm

    Maybe she should be impeached🤣
    wouldn’t that be fun.

  • Tom

    December 9, 2021 at 4:45 pm

    Noting like earning over a $million in fees and housing, while the peeps suffer through pandemic and other challenges.

    Like America’s Governor said today, the Dems are on the wrong side of all the issues.

    Fraud is a joke.
    Crispy Crist ain’t extremist enough for this radical Dems. Gov Ron controls center right and that’s where Florida is. He’s right on cue.

    A few legislative hearings would be good.
    Get ready for her scream!!

    It’s a lower tier race for DNC.
    DeSantis bigly! November of 22.

    Enjoy.

Comments are closed.


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