FL Agriculture Commissioner Democrat Nikki Fried spends much of her time on Twitter pushing her campaign for the governorship, bragging about her campaign fundraising, or attacking Governor DeSantis. However, Commissioner Fried has remained interestingly silent about arguably one of the most important breaking news in Florida politics right now: the unanimous decision by FL’s bipartisan commission on ethics finding probable cause over the allegations that Commissioner Fried violated the state Constitution by failing to disclose her income from her lobbying business.
Fried’s campaign has fired back at the charges. A campaign spokesperson claims that the complaint was filed by a disgruntled Republican campaign officer and that Fried had always followed the law of the land when disclosing her financial documents and that the charges are based on false information.
However, the fact that the four Democrats in the commission also thought there is probable cause over the allegations of financial mismanagement does point out that this scandal goes beyond partisan attacks and indicates there is some substance to the allegations.
Nikki Fried constantly changes her financial disclosures
According to the Florida Ethics Commission, Nikki Fried might have violated Article 2, Section 8 of the Florida Constitution, which establishes some of the key requirements any Florida public official should follow in order to ensure the ethical integrity of their offices, among those requirements is that all public officials should file public disclosures of their financial interests. The commission also argued that Fried might have violated section 112.3144 of the Florida statutes, which lays out the procedure for the financial disclosures of public officials.
Fried did submit financial disclosures of her earnings in 2018 when she ran for Agriculture Commissioner, however, the issue that has been looked into is that she has amended those same reports many times in the past, indicating that she earned far more money than she previously reported while she was a lobbyist for the consulting firm Igniting Florida.
Fried has amended her 2017, 2018, and 2019 financial records, some of them just a few days before announcing her run for the Democrat’s nomination for governor. Her initial 2017 financial records reported that Fried had only earned $84,000 from Igniting Florida, mainly from the consulting services to San Felasco Nursery, a medical marijuana center that was bought by a major firm in 2018. However, the amended form indicates that she actually earned $165,761 from the same firm, almost $82,000 more than she previously reported.
Fried has also amended her 2018 records at least two times. When she first filed her financial records in July 2019, she indicated that her only source of income had been her salary as Agriculture Commissioner and that her net worth was a total of $1.4 million. However, Fried then amended that record on January 30, 2019, where now she added her job in Igniting Florida, of which she is the sole owner, as another income source, saying that she earned $72,000 from consulting. That was not the end of the financially busy (and very successful) 2018 of Commissioner Fried, as she filed another amendment in May 2021 where she now reported $351,480 of income from Igniting Florida.
In other words, Fried went from claiming that she had not earned a single dollar from her consulting business to now accepting she had earned six figures income as the president of Igniting Florida in 2018. Additionally, according to Fried’s own filings, her personal net worth increased from $271,613 in 2017 to $1.4 million in 2018, with most of that increase being tied to a real estate property valued at $700,000.
Fried has not only had issues with the accuracy of her reports, but also the timing of them, as she filed her final 2020 financial disclosure file almost two months after the original deadline, where she indicated that her only source of income was her salary as Agriculture Commissioner, just as she had originally claimed in 2018.
Fried’s ties with Marihuana providers have awakened some criticisms
The center of Fried’s financial amendments comes from her job as the president of Igniting Florida, a lobbying firm she founded in 2016 and which was dissolved at the end of 2018. One of the key clients of Igniting Florida, as Fried stated in her filings, was San Felasco Nurseries, which was authorized to sell medical marijuana in Florida. San Felasco was then bought by Harvest Health & Recreation Inc on November 21st, 2018, with Harvest paying more than $65 million for the medical marijuana dispensary.
Nikki Fried has been an open advocate for marijuana legalization for years and is now partly in charge of the marijuana cultivation licensing process as Agriculture Commissioner. There have been some concerns over Fried’s potential conflicts of interests with the marijuana industry not only because of her previous work as a consultant for cannabis companies but also because Jake Bergmann, Fried’s fiancée, was the CEO of one of the biggest marijuana distributors of the state and is now managing Iconoclast Ventures, a “boutique cannabis investment and advisory firm”. Fried has denied any potential conflict of interest, calling those allegations a “smear campaign”.