Eric Sutton, FWC chief set to resign just before Florida anti lobby law kicks in
By Staci-lee Sherwood
In a short email sent out December 21, 2022 Sutton says he’s leaving the agency he has led since 2017. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC) is often seen as the poster child for corruption, open hostility toward genuine environmentalists and animal lovers and fraud. Despite a staggering ½ billion dollar budget and their own nonprofit, their claims of saving wildlife fall flat. In fact most species are doing far worse than reported in the so called media while many are on the brink of extinction.
This is also the same agency that sprays tons of poison in the water killing everything it touches. This is done while using many chemicals long since banned in other countries like the European Union, such as Diquat and Paraquat. In short it’s a shining example of what not to do if you want to save endangered wildlife and keep the drinking water safe to drink. They really work hard to put the CON in conservation. I have eleven years personal experience in dealing with them. I was listed on several of their permits, appointed to one of their committees and know first hand how they lie about what they’re doing. They bully reporters, skew data and skirt the laws they’re paid to enforce and that’s just what we know about.
Sutton’s leaving will be a loss to FWC Chair Rodney Barreto since he was Barreto’s political boy toy bending over and happy to push his agenda. Barreto is a well heeled lobbyist whose tentacles make their way from Miami to Tallahassee. He often seems to run the agency as his own personal LLC of which he has dozens. One can only imagine who Gov Desantis will tap to replace Sutton. Over the years the many missteps FWC has made, from their destroying manatee food to the bear massacre and openly hunting endangered species, have made them a political hot potato for DeSantis. It’s clear DeSantis has visions of leaving Florida for greener pastures in DC in 2024.
Florida voters, tired and impatient with the corruption, voted on an amendment to curb former government officials from lobbying for six years after leaving their job. The bill is set to take effect on December 31, 2022. Sutton’s leaving by the 30th can hardly be a coincidence. When Mike Sole left his job at Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection in 2010 it was for a plum job as lobbyist for Florida Light and Power. When government employees leave their taxpayer funded job they rarely do it to work for the greater good. Usually they parlay their connections into million dollar jobs with under the table perks. They are now lobbyists for the very industries they were suppose to monitor in their government job.
The revolving door from government job to industry lobbyist is widely known both at the state and federal level. The money is too lucrative and tempting for most to resist. For industry they gain even more access by hiring those who have already demonstrated a flexible moral compass.
The ‘Public Integrity & Elections Committee Act’ implements section 8(f), Article II of the Florida state constitution. The bill was signed into law in May 2022 though it had passed as a state constitutional amendment back in 2018, it’s anyone’s guess why it took four years to finally implement. The new law won’t take effect until January 1, 2023, so it won’t apply to any lawmaker or judge who leaves office before then, hence Sutton leaving now.
According to a summary by the Florida League of Cities the new law ‘prohibits lobbying by certain public officers both during public service and for a six-year period following vacation of public office. The prohibition applies to lobbying before the federal government, the Legislature, any state agency, or any political subdivision.’ The law is designed to curb but not stop lobbying while having a six year waiting period. It’s suppose to apply to the following: public officers: statewide elected officers; legislators; county commissioners; constitutional county officers and county charter officials; school board members; school superintendents; elected municipal officers; elected special district officers in special districts with ad valorem taxing authority; and secretaries, executive directors, and other administrative heads of executive branch departments.
Copy and paste this link to read the law
As they say the devil is in the details. It took four years to sign this into law, why the wait? Without oversight and enforcement it will fail like many other laws that have gone unenforced. The very nature of lobbying is about exploiting personal connections while making deals over drinks or on the golf course so how this plays out in reality is a wonder. The act of lobbying is not about formal recorded meetings but rather sublime messages and hints of leverage.
Those that work in government have to know the people who run the companies they are suppose to have oversight on. This means they have access to information the public does not. When they leave that job to work for those companies they take that knowledge and all those years of networking with them. This is what companies pay for. To lobby someone does not mean you hand them a bill you want passed it often is a whisper reminding that person of secrets you know about them they don’t want exposed. That is not something any law can ever regulate or prevent.
Here’s an example of lobbying you can’t legislate against. When South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle was majority leader his wife, Linda Hall Daschle, was a top aviation lobbyist. No surprise her husband always voted for increases in federal bailouts for airlines and gave the industry a blank check to monitor themselves. She didn’t have to worry about any lobbying laws she only had to roll over to lobby the leader of the Senate. This is how lobbying is done. So while the new law looks good on paper and many hope it will curb corruption….human nature and greed is rarely overcome with laws.
What Sutton will do in his new job and who will be tapped to take his place at FWC remains uncertain. One thing is clear: will all the corruption at FWC can we really expect that to change? Past history says no.
To read more about the ethical challenges FWC has click here