The Florida Commission on Ethics will hold an initial hearing Friday on an ethics complaint filed against Alissa Jean Schafer. The Broward County Soil and Water Conservation District Board member is accused of hiding the real source of her income by claiming to be a spokeswoman for a dark money group called the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI).
But EPI doesn’t apparently exist.
As an elected official, Schafer is required to file an annual financial disclosure, and she has a legal duty to be truthful about her sources of income. Intentionally hiding or obscuring income sources is a violation of Florida law.
According to the ethics complaint, filed last fall, the Energy and Policy Institute is not in fact a legal entity. If true, Schafer cannot claim the group as a source of income on her financial disclosure, and she should instead disclose her real source of the payments she has collected while serving as an elected official in Florida.
Courts across the country have ruled in the past that using a non-existent entity to hide income sources generally constitutes an illegal act and could be considered fraud in certain circumstances. If the Florida Ethics Commission finds that Schafer did not violate state ethics laws, such a ruling would likely have far-reaching implications for voters seeking transparency from political candidates.
Schafer has consistently refused to answer questions about her income, or her mysterious employer. Last fall, she did not respond to a request for comment when the ethics complaint was first filed.
Several prominent Florida media outlets have been duped into treating Schafer and the Energy and Policy Institute as a credible sources of information, without questioning the group’s legal legitimacy, transparency practices, or funding sources.
The original ethics complaint against Schafer was filed by an Alabama-based group called the Jobkeeper Alliance, which alleges that two independent searches, one by a private sector attorney, and a second by the Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill’s office, both failed to locate a single record anywhere in the United States that could confirm that the Energy and Policy Institute is a legitimate organization.