Tallahassee —Campaign contributions may be determining who is hired into top state positions but a government investigation into the illegal practice will not proceed, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The probe did confirm that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection placed a printout of political donations in the file of a candidate selected to fill a key enforcement slot in a case involving close associates of Governor Jeb Bush but was unable to determine who ordered the computerized search of donation records using state computers.
The Office of Inspector General for the Florida DEP closed its investigation despite confirming the charges brought by PEER based on documents the watchdog group obtained under Florida’s Sunshine Law. Astoundingly, according to its October 5 th report, Mary Jean Yon, Director of Waste Management at DEP, referring to campaign contributions, told the investigators:
“Yon stated that she knew as one goes up the chain and gets approval from the Governor’s Office they look at things like that.”
“The fact that a senior level management official acknowledges that cash-for-jobs pressure is often applied by the Governor’s office should be the starting point for investigation, not it’s end,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former enforcement attorney for Florida DEP, noting that under “reforms” enacted at the urging of Gov. Jeb Bush, top agency officials have almost unlimited discretion in hiring and firing managers. “At DEP, the real motto is more politics, less protection.”
The Inspector General also substantiated, but did not pursue, the fact that DEP invited a prominent Republican political contributor to be part of the selection process for the person in charge of pollution enforcement against a landfill run by that same contributor. Nor did the Inspector General attempt to interview the contributor. Shortly after the favored candidate was put in place, enforcement activity against the landfill abruptly ceased.
Contrary to common investigative practice, the Inspector General retained no notes to back up its reports of interviews, interviewed several key officials without putting them under oath and offered immunity to Yon and others for their testimony without determining what the witnesses were expected to say.
“This Inspector General should be called the Deflector General because her job is apparently to make sure no mud spatters the skirts of political heavyweights,” Phillips added, pointing to Pinky Hall, the long-time DEP Inspector General as part of the “culture of corruption at DEP.” “ Reading the report, Pinky Hall’s team of crack investigators could only locate what we handed them to begin with.”
Find out what is behind the cash-for-promotion scandal at DEP: