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Fla. Senate president admits disclosure failure

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos admitted he made an ‘‘embarrassing’’ mistake when he repeatedly failed to properly fill out financial disclosure forms.

On Friday, the Florida Commission on Ethics accepted Haridopolos’ formal admission that he violated the state Constitution by neglecting to detail his investments, a $400,000 home and a consulting job that earned him $120,000 from 2004 through 2008.

But Haridopolos wasn’t fined Friday. The commission can’t do that under constitutional rules. That job is up to Haridopolos’ fellow senators. And they might not fine him at all.

Haridopolos’ attorney, Pete Dunbar, said they shouldn’t make him pay any more because the errors were minimal, unintentional and were corrected as soon as Haridopolos learned of them.

“He has paid enough. This is deeply embarrassing,” Dunbar said Friday after the commission approved Haridopolos’ acknowledgement of guilt. “This was a clerical error.”

But it’s not going away.

Regardless of what penalty -- if any -- Haridopolos’ Senate levies against its boss, the issue is sure to haunt him on the campaign trail.

Haridopolos is already putting out feelers for a possible 2012 run for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Bill Nelson, putting the Merritt Island Republican on a crash course with fellow Republican U.S. Sen. George LeMieux.

LeMieux’s deputy staff chief, Vivian Myrtetus, sent out an electronic Twitter message Friday that linked to a blog with the headline, ‘‘Haridopolos guilty in ethics violation.”

Democrats also pounced.

Shortly after the commission approved Haridopolos’ settlement agreement, the Florida Democratic Party sent out a press release with the headline, “Haridopolos Kicks Off 2012 Senate Campaign By Pleading Guilty To Breaking Ethics Laws.”

The ethics case against Haridopolos was brought by a sharp-eyed retiree, Vero Beach resident Eugene H. “Bucky’’ Benson, who noticed that Haridopolos failed to write the addresses of his employers, the Legislature and the University of Florida. Benson also spotted discrepancies in the way Haridopolos reported income through MJH Consulting Company, which performed work for a public-relations firm called Sytnax Communication and the marketing arm of an appliance company, Appliance Direct.

In an email to reporters, Benson groused that the ethics commission was “the biggest farce in the world.... The Florida Legislature snookered Florida taxpayers into thinking that it governs ‘in the sunshine’ and the Ethics Commission is the taxpayer’s watchdog.”

But Haridopolos said he’s committed to transparency and open government, which he said is what mortified him about his mistakes. Also, he noted to ethics investigators, he’s a college teacher and should’ve filled out the annual financial disclosure forms properly.

He said that after he improperly filled out the forms in a matter of minutes the first time, he repeated his errors year after year.

“I thought I did it correctly,” he told reporters last month. “I turned in the paper. No one turned it back with a red mark on it saying you did this wrong. And so for 10 years, I thought I did this right. My wife’s not happy with me. My newspaper’s not happy with me. And I’m not happy with me. It was a mistake.”

Marc Caputo, Miami Herald reporter, can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com

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