Just days after jumping into the 2022 governor’s race and filing amended financial documents that reveal hundreds of thousands of dollars in previously undisclosed lobbying income, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried could face heightened scrutiny and penalties from the Florida legislature.
A scathing letter sent to Senate Rules Committee Chair Kathleen Passidomo and House Public Integrity & Elections Committee Chair Erin Grall included an in-depth analysis of Fried’s financial reporting over the last several years by State Senator Joe Gruters, who also chairs the Republican Party of Florida.
The letter asks Passidomo and Grall to investigate the matter, which could trigger a Joint Legislative Audit Committee investigation.
Fried is required to report her financial assets and income not only as a lobbyist, but also as a political candidate and as an elected official. But the letter from Gruters focuses primarily on Fried’s failure to accurately report her lobbying income even before she was a political candidate.
To prevent competing lobbyists from knowing how much a client is paying, lobbyists like Fried are only required to report income in broad ranges rather than exact amounts. But Gruter’s letter alleges that in addition to lowballing her income on her official campaign disclosures, Fried also lowballed her 2018 income when she was a lobbyist. According to the letter from Gruters:
“Even on the high end of this range, Fried only reports $119,994 in annual lobbying compensation ($219,988 in annual lobbying compensation if the high end of Legislative and Executive Branch lobbying compensation reported is combined)—far short of the $351,480 of income Fried now reports on her Financial Disclosure Form that she received from her lobbying firm in 2018.”
If the legislature finds that Fried violated the law, she could face a fine of up to $5,000, and could be banned from lobbying for up to two years, among other potential penalties.
But the lobbying violations are only one area of potential trouble for Fried as she seeks the Democratic nomination in the governor’s race, which could hinge on her credibility. Her campaign insists, falsely, that she corrected the errors as soon as she learned of them.
“When we were made aware of the filing error,” said Fried campaign spokesman Max Flugrath, “we amended the forms to provide full transparency.”
Even Fried herself is pushing that false narrative. On the radio show Florida Matters, she said, “It was an error we saw when we were working through my forms this year.”
But Fried and her team have known about the errors since at least January 2020, more than 17 months ago. The discrepancies on her 2017 and 2018 disclosures were first reported by The Capitolist in January 2020, a story that prompted Fried to file an amended disclosure nine days later. However, even the amended disclosure failed to address most of the ommissions, and The Capitolist published a second story detailing the lingering problems with her accounting, including the previously undisclosed source of $166,504 in cash added to her checking account between 2017 and 2018.
Fried’s team was contacted about the errors at that time but declined to comment for those stories.
Read the full letter from Gruters at the link below.