MAGA Republicans are experts in perverting language to their benefit.
In the most recent campaign ads, Florida Governor Ron Desantis and Senator Marco Rubio have decided to pervert the word “freedom” to meet their definitions.
In both of their campaign ads, they decry the infringement on the “freedoms” of Florida residents. These restrictions are not ever listed, but they claim “the radical left,” meaning Democrats, are encouraging rising crime rates and illegal immigration. This is an obvious lie, but it plays well with MAGA followers.
But there is also an economic meaning to DeSantis’ and Rubios’ use of the word “freedom.”
“Freedom” to the authoritarian governor DeSantis and Rubio means that shady business people and investors will find a haven in Florida and can avoid prosecution for fraud.
These frauds range from tax evasion to shoddy construction, running fake charities and tax-exempts, and real estate scams. All these fraudsters are now welcome in Florida because DeSantis has known that fraudsters are welcome in the Sunshine state.
A government lawyer said in an article by Jasper Craven in the Nation (September 2022) that states with strict consumer protection and oversight of nonprofits noted that when they prosecuted fraudsters, they moved to other, friendlier states with lax oversight.
“Florida may be the most welcoming, with nonprofit regulation regulated to an office focused largely on agriculture.”
Asked why more states don’t focus on nonprofit misbehavior, Harvey Dale of NYU’s National Center on Philanthropy said, “Some wags say AG doesn’t stand for ‘attorney general’; it stands for ‘aspiring governor.’ And there’s no real political payoff for overseeing charities,” Dale said.
Most Floridians don’t know that fraud prosecutions fall under the jurisdiction of an office in the agriculture department. This was an office held by Democrat Nikki Fried, who then ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor and lost to Democrat Charlie Crist.
It also explains why Fried, the former Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, was a constant target of DeSantis. If it were not for the Republican-controlled Florida legislature, Fried could have initiated many prosecutions. It also explains why Florida’s most significant air and water polluters are Florida Crystals and Florida Crystals Corporation, based in West Palm Beach, tremendous contributors to Republicans in Florida and Congress.
Florida Ranks #1 in Internet Fraud
In 2018, about three million consumer complaints were filed with the FTC, and Florida ranked No. 1 for fraud and No. 4 for identity theft, according to the latest FTC Data Book. The top fraud scams affecting Floridians were debt collection, identity theft, and impostor hoaxes.
Real estate sales and development and construction are also ripe for fraud. A December 2021 report from WFTV, “Central Florida becoming the Wild West of real estate scams,” found that people were selling land they did not own via online real estate sites. Rental frauds are also common. Another area ripe for investigation is Community Redevelopment programs that involve HUD money and public-private real estate developments that misuse federal and state monies.
In April 2021, the former mayor of Boca Raton, Susan Haynie, pleaded guilty to charges that she failed to disclose financial ties to a local real estate tycoon while she was in office. Florida investigators said Haynie didn’t report over $330,000 in earnings she received from developers and commercial property owners.
For average consumers, there is also fraud conducted by handymen, real estate agents, and home inspectors. A retired plumber from New York bought a condo in Palm Beach County from an elderly owner but soon noticed the air conditioning was not working. He checked the wiring and bought a new thermostat, but it did not fix the problem. He then looked in the attic and found that the air conditioning ducts were never connected to the air conditioning unit. The man said the elderly owner was never able to inspect the attic, so the repair people collected the money and disappeared.
Another elderly woman in the Kings Point condominiums in Delray, Florida, bought a unit only to find that her Jacuzzi tub did not work. Her real estate agent and home inspector both assured her everything was in working order. The new condo owner was then faced with a $5,000 bath remodeling job to replace the old tub.
Elderly people who are fraud victims are often reluctant to notify authorities. It takes too much time, is stressful, and makes them look more vulnerable. They also don’t know who to contact.
Tax Evaders and Fraudsters: Welcome to Florida
Real estate agents in Florida are often poorly supervised, part-timers, who don’t spend the time to research Florida’s complex market of condos, gated communities, country clubs, homeowner association fees and what they cover, and whether any home improvements were done with permits by licensed contractors.
Even large real estate developers, who are major contributors to Republicans, build $1 million homes on zero lot line sites, with inadequate drainage, and shoddy work. To give homeowners the illusion of quality construction, many builders offer a one-year home warranty to discover any defects, but after that year is up, repairs become the homeowner’s entire responsibility.
Real estate developers, hedge funds, and private equity managers are also moving to Florida because of its lax oversight and no state personal income taxes. Wealthy people in these industries are huge beneficiaries of the carried interest tax loophole that allows people to pay capital gains taxes at the ordinary income tax rate; huge savings that are not available to ordinary people and a huge tax loss to the federal government. This makes it attractive, but paying no personal state income taxes also means fewer Florida state services.
Florida ranks as one of the worst states for paying public school teachers. While Florida lawmakers posted misleading social media posts about raising teacher pay, National Education Association (NEA) “data shows that in the 2018-2019 school year, when DeSantis entered office, Florida ranked 47th in the nation for average public school teacher pay, giving teachers an average annual salary of $48,314. It ranked 48th in the 2020-2021 school year, giving teachers an average of $51,009. The state is estimated to continue to rank 48th for the 2021-2022 school year, according to Staci Maiers, an NEA spokesperson.”
As a result, after New Year’s Day 2022, Florida ranked fourth among states where coronavirus was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. A November 2021 report found that Florida’s total COVID-19 case rate was higher than the national rate and was the 10th highest in the U.S.
A story on FactCheck found that using data compiled by the New York Times, Florida — the third largest state — has the third most COVID-19 deaths and cases in the nation, with more than 3.6 million cases and more than 59,000 deaths since February 2020. A social media post by a Republican lawmaker boasted falsely that “The steady decline in cases has led to sunny social media posts proclaiming Florida has the “lowest Covid rates in the country without having to institute communist mandates & lockdowns.”
For Florida Consumers, it’s Caveat Emptor to Prevent Fraud
This approach dovetails with the Republican’s political and anti-consumer protection philosophy. One building inspector who worked for the city of Delray told me that he attended a County Commissioner’s meeting in which one resident complained of buying tires from a local dealer that had dry rot. The tires were unsafe and expensive, but when he went to complain, the tire shop did nothing.
A Palm Beach County commissioner later set the resident straight. She said in an open meeting that the burden of buying safe products was on the buyer. Florida, she said, was a state that protects the rights of businesses, not consumers, so caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware.”
Based on the antidemocratic and anti-consumer actions of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Senators Mark Rubio, and Rick Scott, “caveat emptor” should also become Florida’s new motto.