TALLAHASSEE – Governor Ron DeSantis made it official on Sean Hannity’s Fox News Wednesday night. He used the moment to divert attention from the speech that he was about to run for president in 2024 and announced that he was indeed running for re-election.
“I don’t envision anything other than doing my job,” Desantis said in response to a question from the Fox News host about what he says to people when asked if he “is considering a presidential bid in 2024. “We’ve got a lot going on in Florida, I’m going to run for re-election next year.
To run for president, DeSantis must first be re-elected governor in 2022, but there is still no official sign that DeSantis is ready to file the required documents to be an official candidate.
Florida’s Elections Division lists 13 gubernatorial candidates, including Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and former Governor and current Congressman Charlie Crist, the top two Democrats In the race. But DeSantis did not file any campaign documents, released any financial disclosures, reported no campaign expenses, or established a campaign treasurer – all required for candidates for statewide office. in Florida.
It raises funds, through its political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis.
$ 50 million raised
In the last reporting period, the governor’s political committee raised more than $ 50 million in this election cycle, including nearly $ 46 million in the first eight months of the year.
According to Division of Election records, since DeSantis’ inauguration in January 2019, its political committee has spent more than $ 510,000 on fundraising and $ 200,836 on database services, often used for mailing. emails. fundraising. The committee reports expenses of over $ 17,800 for photography and $ 120,000 for advertising.
And the The committee spent nearly $ 400,000 on “store inventory,” as friends of Ron DeSantis promoted the sale of beer koozies, caps and other merchandise featuring the governor’s message against. masks. The slogans were: “How the hell am I going to drink a beer with a mask on?” and “Don’t Fauci My Florida.”
Are funds going to campaign?
What is the purpose of spending on fundraising consultation, advertising, database services and photography if the governor is not using his political committee for a political campaign?
Helen Aguirre Ferré, spokesperson for the Florida Republican Party and adviser to DeSantis, did not respond to questions posed Thursday in phone calls, emails and texts. She would not answer what the governor’s general opinion is on his obligation to publicly disclose his political activity.
And, as with many governor’s advisers, Ferré indicated that DeSantis would officially announce his candidacy but couldn’t say when.
Under state law, a candidate must sign a campaign oath and file a financial statement within 10 days of appointing a campaign treasurer and starting campaign fundraising.
But campaigns affiliated with candidates also have restrictions, which make the use of a political action committee more attractive. State law requires that a campaign committee for a candidate for governor raise no more than $ 3,000 from a single individual or entity. In contrast, the political committee can raise unlimited funds as long as they remain independent of a campaign.
“This is another example of Florida’s dysfunctional campaign finance system,” said Ben Wilcox, president of Integrity Florida, a political watchdog organization.
“We allow potential candidates to have political committees where they can raise unlimited amounts 365 days a year, with no end date, and then when they become an official candidate, we place limits on what they can raise and pay into the campaign account. ,” he said. “It’s dysfunctional.”
In 2013, then-Gov. Rick Scott waited until December 10 to officially nominate his re-election campaign after his political committee, Let’s Get to Work, had already raised more than $ 18 million. In 2001, then-Gov. Jeb Bush filed his campaign papers on July 5 and, because Florida law imposed more restrictions on political committees at the time, he relied on the political arm of the Florida Republican Party to raise unlimited funds. from its donors.
Over the past year, DeSantis’ Policy Committee has worked in conjunction with the Governor’s Office to coordinate scheduled fundraising campaigns for the press events that he leads in his official capacity.
On Tuesday, DeSantis sued the federal government over immigration, demanding that the Biden administration detain people seeking asylum at U.S. borders instead of releasing them pending a hearing. Minutes after the press conference, the governor’s political committee sent out a fundraising email.
“Joe Biden’s obsession with targeting Florida is nothing more than a distraction to deflect responsibility for the chaos he has caused in our country,” the email said.
The same happened in July when DeSantis flew to Del Rio, Texas on the state plane to co-host a press conference with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and criticize border policies. by President Joe Biden. Just hours before the press conference began, Friends of Ron DeSantis launched a fundraising campaign.
“Today I am heading to Texas for a first glimpse of the crisis raging on our country’s southern border,” the fundraising email said, noting that DeSantis was “the first governor in send resources “to the US-Mexico border after Abbott asked other governors for help.
Over 2,000 donations were made this weekend, the vast majority of which were small dollar donations, according to campaign funding reports.
Florida law prohibits state employees from taking “any active part in a political campaign while on duty.” But he neither authorizes nor forbids coordinated events between a candidate and a political committee, subject to certain restrictions.
Democrats called out DeSantis for using the governor’s office to appeal to a nationwide Republican audience.
Senator Annette Taddeo, a Democrat from Miami who is also considering running for governor, said the immigration lawsuit was proof of the governor’s “willingness to fuel hate politics to gain support of his future presidential ambitions “.
DeSantis led a national fundraising campaign. He has held fundraisers this summer in Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada and California. On Tuesday he was in western New York for a $ 5,000 plate fundraiser.
However, if the governor intends to transfer any of the funds he has raised to a political committee for a national office, Florida law will not allow it, Wilcox said.
According to the Elections Division’s Political Committee Handbook, “A Florida political committee shall use its funds only for political activities in Florida, that is, depositing contributions and incurring expenses, which by definition in Florida law, are intended to influence Florida elections only. “
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at [email protected] and @MaryEllenKlas