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Moonlighting of Florida legislative aides may pose conflicts

December 8, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Dozens of employees with the Florida Legislature, including the spokesman for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, have been working at jobs outside their taxpayer-paid positions.

While some employees have worked afterhours and weekends as waitresses, tutors, photographers and flight instructors, other have taken the jobs that could raise questions about potential conflicts, according to a review of outside employment permission forms filed since November 2016.

Records requested by The Associated Press show that an aide to a Bradenton legislator was given permission to conduct “social media” work for a consulting company with ties to prominent Republicans such as Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading GOP candidate for governor.

Rep. Jim Boyd said that his aide, Albert Kaminsky, is working after hours for the Sarasota firm Political Insights, on social media aimed at boosting Boyd’s profile.

“He’s boosting my reputation and presence in the social media sphere,” said Boyd, a veteran House member who is leaving office next year but is expected to then run for the state Senate in 2020.

Campaign records show that Political Insights has been paid nearly $11,000 this year by a political committee linked to Boyd. That same firm has been paid $45,000 by either Putnam or his committee.

The permission forms show that legislative employees have taken positions with colleges and universities that seek money from the Florida Legislature. One employee in the House clerk’s office works for a dog-grooming business owned by a lobbyist. Max Flugrath, who works in the House Democratic Office, got permission to do graphic design work, although in his application he stated that the clients would be “all non political.”

Fred Piccolo, the communications director for Corcoran, had been working until recently for the company that owns Florida Politics, a media organization that extensively covers state politics and the Legislature.

Legislative rules require employees to get approval to do outside work but Piccolo, who is paid $110,000 a year, did not follow that rule.

Celeste Lewis, the deputy chief of staff for administration in the House, said that Piccolo had “failed to comply” with House policy, but that it “been addressed and corrected with the employee” and that “going forward” he would not engage in outside employment.

Corcoran, a Republican who is expected to run in governor and has at times had a combative relationship with the media, did not comment directly on Piccolo’s outside employment.

Norman Lewis, a University of Florida professor of journalism who does research on media ethics, said Piccolo working for Florida Politics raises questions about the site’s motives.

“If a political news site wants to be seen as impartial it would want to refrain from paying anyone who fills a political role in their day job,” Lewis said. “It’s best to leave that a hands-off relationship.”

Peter Schorsch, whose company operates the Florida Politics website, said that for more than a year that Piccolo did basic graphic design work for including infographics and was only getting paid a “few hundred” dollars a month. But he said that his news organization did not enjoy a better relationship or have better access than other news organizations that cover Corcoran and the Florida House.

Schorsch also said it was “never my responsibility” to check with the speaker’s office about Piccolo’s employment status.

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