tampabay.com

Two face ethics complaints

The incoming Senate president and a House member are accused of misusing funds. They say it's just politics.

By ALEX LEARY
Published May 24, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - A Broward County Democratic activist has filed ethics complaints against incoming state Senate President Ken Pruitt and a House member from Fort Lauderdale, alleging various offenses, including misuse of charitable donations intended for educational scholarships.

Pruitt, through his lawyer, and state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff dismissed the complaints to the state Ethics Commission as "pure politics." Both are Republicans.

"We're not going to dignify that tripe with a response other than to say the assertions contained in this charge as have been reported are simply untrue," said Pruitt's Tallahassee lawyer, Ron Meyer.

The complaints by Richard Cimoch, a Democratic committee official in Fort Lauderdale and prominent gay rights advocate, are based on investigative articles in the Palm Beach Post.

The newspaper reported Pruitt's nonprofit Partnership for Better School Funding raised more than $260,000 but only about $7,500 went to pay for college scholarships for needy students. Bogdanoff said much more in fact went to the cause. But the newspaper also reported that more than $100,000 was used for a bus tour Pruitt and Bogdanoff took to highlight the state's Bright Futures program for college-bound students.

Pruitt denied the trip had anything to do with his shoring up political support to replace Tom Lee, R-Valrico, as Senate president.

The complaint against Pruitt also asserts he inserted language into a 1997 bill to benefit allies who build concrete portable classrooms, and that Pruitt himself gained financially as a result.

Pruitt of Port St. Lucie referred questions Tuesday to his attorney, who said he had not seen the complaints but added, "We'll defend this in court or the appropriate legal venue."

Bogdanoff has closes ties to Pruitt. Before becoming a lawmaker in 2004, she was paid $128,000 to review financial records for one of his political committees, according to the Post. Earlier this year, the newspaper reported that Bogdanoff was using taxpayer money to pay for her legislative office space that also served her consulting firm, law practice and Pruitt's charity. Bogdanoff owns the building, which is outside her political district.

Reached Tuesday, Bogdanoff said she did not want to discuss the allegations, having not fully examined the complaint. But she said the office indeed served as her legislative headquarters and that she had challenged the accuracy of the articles. She also took aim at the possible motivation for the complaint: "It's pure politics." Two Democrats are vying for the chance to challenge her in the general election.

"It's the campaign season and this (complaint) is nothing but politics," Bogdanoff said.

"It is politics," Cimoch said, "and it always gets shuffled under the covers. These people should be held accountable. It's as simple as that. If they didn't do anything wrong, then fine. If they did, hopefully proper action will be taken."