The pro-Trump Super PAC Make America Great Again Inc. has filed an ethics complaint against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), accusing the governor of engaging in “illegal conduct” running a “shadow presidential campaign.”
A March 14 letter to the Florida Commission on Ethics asserts that DeSantis has used pro-DeSantis super PACs as well as state-level campaign contributions and his “personally lucrative book tour” to prop himself up on the national stage as he essentially runs a “shadow” presidential campaign.
The complaint reads:
Certain activities related to Governor DeSantis’s ascension to the national stage, insofar as they are funded by a vast network of political committees, non-profit organizations, and prominent political operatives, are unlawful because they serve his personal political objectives, are in furtherance of his personal financial gain at the expense of Florida taxpayers, and are intended to influence his official decision to resign from office.
It also says that it is “no secret that Governor DeSantis aspires to national prominence.”
The complaint goes a step further, asserting that DeSantis is “already a de facto candidate for President of the United States under federal election laws.”
“Governor DeSantis’s failure to declare his candidacy is no mere oversight; it is a coordinated effort specifically designed for him to accept, as unethical gifts, illegal campaign contributions and certain personal benefits that are necessarily intended to influence,” it declares, providing what it describes as evidence of these claims.
For instance, one section of the letter states that DeSantis is focused on a “Shadow Presidential Campaign,” noting that the governor has met with “influential figures in early primary states,” asserting he is “vetting operatives in early primary states,” and adding that individuals allied with the governor launched a 501(c)(4) organization to “support his presidential candidacy by sponsoring his events in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago” — a likely reference to the governor’s recent pro-police tour.
The letter also asserts that DeSantis has “met with individuals who are likely to play key roles in his presidential campaign” and accuses his committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, of making “inappropriate expenditures aimed at a national audience,” allegedly violating campaign finance laws.
Per the letter:
There is strong evidence that Governor Ron DeSantis has engaged in illegal conduct pursuant to:
(1) Section 112.313(2) of the Florida Statutes (prohibition on solicitation and acceptance of gifts); (2) Article II, Section 8(h)(2) of the Florida Constitution with his wrongful intent evidenced by his violations of the Federal Campaign Finance Act of 1971, Section 112.31485 of the Florida Statutes (prohibition on gifts from political committees), and Section 112.3215 of the Florida Statutes (prohibition on accepting illegal lobbying payments); (3) Section 112.313(6) of the Florida Statutes (prohibition on misuse of public position); and (4) Section 112.313(7) of the Florida Statutes (prohibition on conflicting employment or contractual relationships).
A press release from Make American Great Again Inc. states that DeSantis should be held accountable, removed from office, and disqualified from “any future ballot in the State of Florida” if the commission finds these alleged violations to be legitimate.
“The Make America Great Again movement was birthed to stop career politicians who use public service to amass personal wealth and power,” the pro-Trump PAC said in a statement.
“An investigation by the Florida Ethics Commission must occur as soon as possible. This letter provides ample evidence that Governor DeSantis is engaging in conduct that violates Florida Ethics laws,” it added.
The DeSantis administration, however, has dismissed the allegations as a “politically motivated” attack.
“Adding this to the list of frivolous and politically motivated attacks,” DeSantis communications director Taryn Fenske said, accusing the pro-Trump PAC of inappropriate behavior.
“It’s inappropriate to use state ethics complaints for partisan purposes,” she added.
Ken Cuccinelli, a former Trump senior adviser who recently announced the “Never Back Down PAC” encouraging DeSantis to run for president, also responded to the complaint, accusing former President Donald Trump of playing “establishment games.”
“The President Trump I knew would never have played these types of establishment games. I’m shocked, but not surprised. During my tenure as Attorney General of Virginia, I saw complaints all the time and I can tell when spaghetti is just thrown at the wall,” he stated.
“The overwhelming response we’ve received to building a DeSantis grassroots effort is exciting — and I’m sure intimidating. No wonder the folks on that campaign are nervous. They should be. The MAGA movement is excited to look to its next chapter and future conservative leadership. They are excited at the potential of a President Ron DeSantis,” he continued, asserting that Trump wants DeSantis removed from office because his book “outsold Trump’s book.”
The apparent legal battle comes months after the beginning of public tensions between Trump and the Florida governor, who were once allies. Trump has repeatedly expressed disappointment in the governor for refusing to overtly state that he will not run for president, as DeSantis has continued to remain coy, refusing to reveal his political aspirations or intentions.
Earlier this year, Trump asserted that both DeSantis and his donors are “globalists.”
“Ron DeSanctimonious, who I made Governor in BOTH the Primary & the General, is also a Globalist, & so are his donors,” Trump said in a TruthSocial post. “Jeb ‘Low Energy’ Bush was next to him last week. Check PAST!”
Indeed, Jeb Bush has expressed support for a DeSantis 2024 presidential bid, explaining that it is likely the governor’s opportunity to run for higher office.
“I think it is. He’s been a really effective governor,” Bush said during a Fox Nation special. “He’s young. I think we’re on the verge of a generational change in our politics — I kind of hope so. I think it’s time for a more forward-leaning, future-oriented conversation on politics as well.”
Notably, DeSantis has yet to publicly criticize Trump, routinely dismissing press inquiries on the complexities of their relationship.