Allies of former US President Donald Trump have filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics against Governor Ron DeSantis, accusing him of violating state ethics and election laws with his “shadow presidential campaign.” According to the complaint, DeSantis’ activities, including pro-DeSantis super PACs, his book tour, and state-level campaign contributions, are in breach of the law as they allegedly serve his personal political objectives and financial gain at the expense of Florida taxpayers. The complaint claims that these actions are intended to influence his official decision to resign from office and that DeSantis has checked all the boxes for someone considering a run for the White House.
This complaint is significant because it highlights the growing rift between two major figures in the Republican Party, both of whom are potential candidates for the 2024 presidential election. It also underscores the importance of fundraising and political action committees in modern American politics, as candidates and their supporters use these entities to raise and spend vast sums of money to promote their political agendas.
However, the impartiality of any investigation into the allegations against DeSantis could be called into question since he appointed five of the nine members of the Florida Commission on Ethics. If DeSantis is found to have breached ethics and election laws, he could face penalties such as fines, public censure, ballot disqualification, removal from office, or impeachment.
Trump announced in November 2021 that he is running for president again and has become more openly hostile towards DeSantis, who is expected to be his main rival in the Republican primaries. This includes calling DeSantis by Trump’s trademark nicknames and portraying him as a political moderate out of touch with the GOP base. However, this complaint marks the first time Trump’s supporters have elevated the feud from campaign trail rhetoric to a formal legal fight.
It is worth noting that this is not the first time that Governor DeSantis has faced accusations of ethical misconduct. In 2019, a complaint was filed against him for allegedly accepting gifts from lobbyists and failing to properly disclose his finances. However, the Florida Commission on Ethics ultimately dismissed the complaint, citing a lack of evidence.
DeSantis’ communication director, Taryn Fenske, has responded to the complaint, calling it “frivolous and politically motivated.” She also stated that using state ethics for partisan purposes is inappropriate. Trump’s allies may face difficulty in persuading the commission to investigate DeSantis since he appointed five of the nine members. If the governor were to face penalties, they could range from fines and public censure to ballot disqualification, removal from office, or impeachment.
The draft complaint reads:
“This letter provides ample evidence to support a finding of probable cause by the Florida Commission on Ethics that Governor DeSantis, in concert with certain associated political committees, political consultants and a 501(c)(4) organization, has solicited and received millions of dollars’ worth of illegal gifts in violation of Florida State ethics laws and the Florida Constitution,”
The complaint specifically notes a new Virginia-based super PAC called Run, Ron, Run!, which was created by Ken Cuccinelli, a former top official in the Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security. DeSantis has also raised more than $10 million for a state-level political committee called Friends of Ron DeSantis since the beginning of the year. The draft complaint outlines DeSantis’ recent actions that suggest he is preparing to run for president. Although he has not yet announced his candidacy, the complaint alleges that he has already checked all the boxes for someone considering a White House bid. These include making stops in early primary states, writing a book, raising tens of millions of dollars for a state-level committee that could be transferred to a federal super PAC, and seeing a constellation of supporter-led super PACs and an outside nonprofit group appear, some with the goal of persuading DeSantis to run for president.