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Crackdown long overdue on Florida pols stiffing you for $1.4M

Scott Maxwell

Taking Names

7:16 PM EDT, September 8, 2011

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There's a new plan to block politicians from running for office unless they've paid all their delinquent elections fines.

Sounds simple and fair enough, right?

I mean, what kind of so-called "public servant" would have the audacity to run for office while stiffing the very taxpayers he wants to represent?

Well, how about a future speaker of the Florida House?

Yes, the tale of one Central Florida politician — one who broke the rules, incurred a fine, refused to pay, ignored threats about docked pay and ultimately forced the state to turn to a collection agency — highlights a much bigger problem.

We're talking about Chris Dorworth.

That may not surprise you. The Lake Mary Republican, after all, has had more financial pitfalls and personal bumbling than the Everglades has gators — everything from missed mortgage payments and unpaid tolls to multimillion-dollar judgments and a suspended drivers license. (A 2010 disclosure that showed Dorworth had monthly mortgage payments of $9,700 — and a monthly income of only $2,700 — told most people all they needed to know.)

But this isn't about Dorworth. Not just him, anyway.

No, this is about a much bigger issue: $1.4 million of your money that is being unpaid by the people who run state and local governments.

And that is simply ludicrous.

Records show 184 cases of politicos stiffing the state on election fines.

There aren't many aspiring House speakers on there. Many are unsuccessful candidates and consultants. But there are some other sitting officials, such as Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor, who has refused to pay $82,000 worth of fines.

How does such a thing happen?

Because Florida doesn't enforce its laws. Dorworth's case shows how.

It started back on Oct. 4, 2010, when the Florida Elections Commission notified Dorworth that he had violated Chapter 106 of Florida Statutes by "failing to timely file a campaign treasurer's report."

No big deal, right? You pay the fine and move on, right?

Not if you're Chris Dorworth.

He didn't pay. So the state sent Dorworth another notice of the fine on Nov. 4.

Again, he didn't pay.

Five months later, in April, the state sent him a "Final Order" demanding payment — and then followed that on May 13 with a promise to either dock his pay or sic a collections agency on him unless he paid "within 10 days."

But the state didn't follow through.

So on Wednesday, I sent Dorworth a note, telling him I was going to write about his fine and asking why he hadn't paid.

He didn't respond to me. But on Thursday — 11 months after he was first notified that he had violated Florida Statutes — he paid the 50 bucks.

On the same day, the state said it finally sent his case to a collection agency …. just a few hours before he paid.

Awesome. We can knock $50 off the $1.4 million total.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure I can track down all 183 of the other financial delinquents. So I think the Elections Commission's proposal to better enforce these laws is a good idea.

After all, politicians shouldn't draft new laws and regulations until they first pay the price for the ones they broke.

Saying goodbye

On Wednesday night, Florida lost one of the state's true GOP patriarchs: attorney Thom Rumberger, a respected lawyer who fought for everything from the Everglades to Fair Districts. Rumberger believed in hard-fought political battles — but not in stacking the deck by gerrymandering districts beforehand. He will be missed. For more on Rumberger's life — including a line he gave me six years ago about what his obituary might say — visit OrlandoSentinel.com/takingnames.

smaxwell@tribune.com or 407-420-6141