It turns out that a worthy report by Integrity Florida (IF), sharply and accurately critical of state agency Enterprise Florida, was funded by Americans For Prosperity Florida (AFP-FL), an arm of the national organization created and sustained by infamous right wing billionaire brothers, David and Charles Koch. One Board member at IF, highly respected, retired journalist Martin Dyckman, has resigned over this fiasco.
The report itself is a 12 page scathing indictment of the controversial agency which serves as the state government economic development arm, administering hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that it brandishes as “business incentives.” Besides failing to meet targeted job creation goals, starting from its beginnings in 1995 – a goal of 200,000 jobs by 2005, but only managing 105,000 – the report also has these findings:
In addition to illustrating the failure to meet legislative expectations, this report documents Enterprise Florida’s apparent conflicts of interest, the appearance of a pay-to-play scheme for winning favorable treatment and its repeated practice of picking winners and losers in the marketplace through targeted business, favoritism, and selective incentive deals.
That line about “picking winners and losers in the marketplace” is boilerplate from the Koch brothers’ radical “free market” ideology. AFP only exists thanks to funding from the Koch brothers. AFP-FL trumpeted the report on its own web site, “Why Taxpayer Incentives Are a Bad Idea.”
Ah, therein lies the rub.
Since the report was funded by AFP-FL, this comment from Enterprise Florida CEO Gray Swoope was the predictable response:
“Integrity Florida has claimed to be a non-partisan, non-profit organization with no policy agenda,” Swoope wrote. “However, a report on economic incentives for job creation funded by a group that so publicly opposes these incentives is deeply troubling.”
As good as IF’s report may be at exposing the cronyism and corporate welfare at Enterprise Florida, its message has been sorely compromised by the funding of AFP-FL. Now the story of Enterprise Florida’s unaccountable, crony practices is being shadowed by the apparent contamination of Integrity Florida by the agenda-driven AFP-FL. Who could have predicted the backlash? Hmm. Any sentient being?
That Enterprise Florida is a cesspool of back slapping, jaw dropping conflicts is actually not a huge surprise since Alan Stonecipher and the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy (FCFEP) have frequently called attention to the ineffectiveness of the incentive strategy as well as the agency. It’s difficult to imagine an unaccountable organization handling so much money so ineffectively without the reeking suggestion of corruption befouling the whole mess.
What is surprising is the utter stupidity of an organization claiming to be a “non-partisan watchdog” taking money from an overtly agenda-driven, political manipulator like Americans for Prosperity. Integrity Florida has now been made about as non-partisan as corporate lapdog Florida Tax Watch.
The IF report’s cover features a graphic of cash passing hands, pay-off style (the featured image). Did IF Executive Director Dan Krassner (or the other 5 IF Board members) not realize that their acceptance of AFP funds thoroughly compromised their integrity, pay-off style? Yes, funding for non-profits in this area of work must be very challenging. As a former non-profit executive director myself, I get it. But when you sell out your mission, someone needs to wake up and ask, ‘what the hell are you doing?’ Martin Dyckman did that apparently and his urgent concern was dismissed.
The question remains for the rest of the Board, plus Krassner: What the hell are you doing? And what do you think you can ever hope to accomplish now?
If St. John’s Riverkeeper partnered with and took funding from Georgia Pacific to conduct water pollution tests in the river, would anyone cry foul? If Charters USA was funding a study of the parent trigger for the Florida Department of Education, would anyone take it seriously? Would anyone suspect that an agenda was being advanced and the host exploited and manipulated? Only everybody.
This page recently faulted Integrity Florida for its election reform agenda which was a bald mirror image of House Speaker Will Weatherford’s desire to remove funding caps in exchange for full donor disclosure, an irresponsible position that would allow a flood of cash without substantively changing much else. While that was pretty shameful ….
Now it seems that Integrity Florida, having sold out its integrity, ought to make some swift and severe changes, and hope the organization can re-build the shambles of its reputation – a very tall order. IF should issue a sincere apology to its supporters who had higher principles (and expectations) than IF’s Executive Director and the remaining IF Board members.