For a law-and-order party, Republicans don’t seem all that interested in actual laws. At least not the ones that apply to them. They may believe the world is safer from loose cigarettes and indiscriminate hoodie-wearing, but open government corruption? Meh.
For example, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appears to be modeling his administration after the serial lawlessness of the Trump cabal, whose lodestar has always been Vladimir Putin. I’d suggest we all pick a Republican and commence to play Six Degrees of Adolf Hitler, but I fear it would be easier than finishing the crayon maze on the latest Denny’s kids’ placemat.
Where did DeSantis ever get the idea that he could selectively interpret Florida’s public records laws? Could it be from the numerous GOPsters who sneer at subpoenas, or Republicans’ serial violations of the Hatch Act, or Donald Trump’s flouting of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, or the fact that Trump launched an open coup attempt 15 months ago and is still churning out business-failure ideas from his prestigious private think tank (aka, his toilet)?
Or maybe DeSantis is just a natural at this stuff.
In a move criticized by advocates of Florida’s open government laws, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staff intervened in a public records request related to a former appointee who is reportedly connected to a federal sex trafficking investigation, documents obtained by News 6 show.
The governor’s secondary “review” of state spending records delayed the release of those documents for more than two months, records confirm.
That delay may have violated Florida’s public records laws, according to some legal experts familiar with the matter.
Fortunately for DeSantis, there’s an almost unlimited number of immigrants and gay children in this country to scapegoat, so this is unlikely to derail his ambitions for higher office—but maybe it can inspire some of us to double down on our opposition to this dude—who’s been like a bout of syphilis for our nation’s most pendulous peninsula.
The records in question involve Halsey Beshears, the former head of the state’s business licensing agency and a party pal of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who’s been under investigation for sex trafficking for roughly a year now.
In fact, according to a May 2021 POLITICO story, Beshears was named in a subpoena related to a grand jury investigating possible crimes “involving commercial sex acts with adult and minor women, as well as obstruction of justice.”
Beshears also served as the secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation but resigned that position amid the investigation tied to a Bahamas trip he took with Gaetz and other women.
The subpoena seeks any documents and communications the individual had with Beshears. It specifically requested photographs, videos, documents and “communications with or records of payment to or from any women you met through the above individuals or who attended parties, gatherings, or events also attended by you and any of the above individuals from January 2016 to the present.”
So, yeah, Beshears appears to be up to his neck in this potentially seismic scandal. Which is what makes DeSantis’ selective slow-walking of the public records request so problematic, according to good-government advocates.
“Once an (agency’s records custodian) has a record, that custodian must produce the record right then. It doesn’t matter that the governor has an interest in it and wants to review it later,” Pamela C. Marsh, the executive director of the First Amendment Foundation, told WKMG. “We understand that this is happening more frequently, but not consistently, such that it appears to have an objective of hiding certain information in a potentially discriminatory or content-based way.”
What? Ron DeSantis is selectively concealing information for political reasons? That doesn’t sound like him at all!
And while the DeSantis administration has claimed “the Executive Office of the Governor may review the record to ensure the accuracy and correctness of the record production,” Florida’s own guidelines state that the only delay permitted in processing a public records request “is the limited reasonable time allowed the custodian to retrieve the record and delete those portions of the record the custodian asserts are exempt.”
“Nothing in the law gives the governor power to delay the production of records by exercising any claimed right of review. It’s a fiction to claim such a right exists,” said Michael Barfield, the director of public access at the Florida Center for Government Accountability. “The law is clear that the only delay permitted is the time it takes the custodian to retrieve the records and determine if any information is exempt. Not a single case allows the governor the opportunity to further review the custodian’s production of records.”
Meanwhile, the fact that this request took months to complete—and involved a Desantis appointee whom the governor once called a “champion for deregulation”—suggests that the governor was manipulating the process for political reasons.
“The practice of the Governor’s Office reviewing record requests involving political allies violates the law because it delays access for an invalid reason,” Barfield said. “There’s no automatic delay because a request seeks records that may expose the governor to ridicule or criticism.”
In the end, the department released Beshears’ financial records to WKMG following a roughly three-month delay. The documents included expense reports and receipts related to travel, and the redactions in the final release mostly involved blacked-out credit card numbers. But who knows what DeSantis might have feared would be found in those 61 pages?
Either way, this suggests there’s a bit too much shadiness afoot in the supposed Sunshine State.
“At this point, a person requesting records has no idea when or if their original request, sent to a different agency, will be subsequently sent to the Governor’s Office and delayed—or why the records might be sent there for a second review,” said Marsh.
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