TILLAHASSE, Fla. – A group of wealthy individuals helped foot the bill as Gov. Ron DeSantis faced Florida and the rest of the country in his re-election campaign and seeking political allies for this month’s midterm elections.
They include restaurateurs, developers, restaurants, investment brokers, trucking magnates, health care executives, gas stations, convenience store owners and oil distributors, some of whom benefit from state board appointments and legislation approved by DeSantis. These include eliminating the state’s gas tax, increasing retailers’ commission on lottery sales, eliminating millions of dollars in Visit Florida advertising and lifting the state’s lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only have the ultra-rich given tens of millions of dollars in cash to the governor, but they’ve also made more than $500,000 in cash contributions toward transportation costs, according to an Orlando Sentinel review of state records.
That doesn’t include about $200,000 in transportation expenses covered by the Florida GOP. It does not include thousands of dollars in direct payments for hotels, commercial airline tickets and other travel expenses.
“It’s an old thing that campaign finances favor the governor and have special access to him,” said Ben Wilcox, director of research for the nonpartisan Integrity Florida.
“What we’ve seen is that business owners offer free flights, and then they fly or fly with the politician,” Wilcox said. “It’s an access you can’t buy. They don’t do it for good governance, they do it for leverage.
Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida, agrees that this is a great way to “hear” a politician and reach more than the average voter.
The ruler travels a lot
DeSantis clearly loves to travel, as evidenced by the $145,000 he racked up in travel expenses while in Congress and the annual travel expenses paid for by Florida taxpayers. Domestic travel spending fell from $2 million in 2021 to $2.4 million in the 2022 fiscal year that ended June 30. Government aircraft you have used on 139 registered flights in the last 12 months.
The use of private jets is permitted under state campaign finance law if the candidate declares the cost as a campaign expense or in-kind contribution.
Campaign records filed with the state only provide the date of the contribution and whether it included transportation, lodging or food and beverages, but do not include details about the date or destination of the flights. So there’s no way DeSantis got to Pennsylvania to campaign for gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, Arizona for Cary Lake or Las Vegas for Adam Laxalt, for example.
The records also do not specify how DeSantis traveled to Orlando in February to attend CPAC, considered a highly conservative convention summit , or other similar state and local political events. But the data shows those foreign events and in-kind transfer contributions reported on the same days as the CPAC conference.
“The lack of detail, privacy or transparency is a flaw in state campaign law by design,” Wilcox said. “The system should be designed so that there is complete transparency of how these dollars are used. Contributions such as air travel should be more specific and the dates and destinations of these trips should be shown, but there is no political will to close these loopholes.
The records provide at least a partial glimpse into the world of billionaires and millionaires who foot the governor’s travel bills.
Ralph “Larry” Roberts, founder of RLR Investments and R&L Carriers, an Ohio-based freight and freight company, and developer of the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, donated $275,000 in cash and $20,000 in carrying fees in October. . before the elections
One of his companies owns a Dassault Falcon 7X, a plane worth at least $18 million that seats 19 passengers. Other moneylenders also have private jets. Between them, they can amass a fleet of business jets worth tens of millions of dollars.
Another donor, Charles B. Johnson, founder of Franklin Templeton, owner of the San Francisco Giants and owner of two homes in Palm Beach, gave DeSantis $855,000 in cash and about $15,000 in transportation expenses.
Mori Hosseini, a Daytona Beach developer and University of Florida board chairman, gave DeSantis $280,000 in cash and about $17,000 in transportation expenses for his businesses.
Thomas Core, a Vero Beach resident and president and CEO of George E. Warren, the largest East Coast and Gulf oil importer, gave DeSantis $234,000 in cash and $19,260 in shipping charges. His company, TLC Leasing, provided an additional $5,169 for outside moving costs. Corr served on DeSantis’ first panel of hosts.
Maximo Alvarez, owner of Sunshine Gas Distribution in Doral, which has 360 gas stations, gave $135,000 in cash and $9,961 in shipping charges. DeSantis appointed Alvarez to the Florida State University Board of Trustees in 2021.
Aubrey Edge, president of First Coast Energy, one of the largest Shell gas stations in the United States, gave DeSantis $200,000 and about $31,000 in shipping costs. DeSantis appointed Edge to the university’s board of trustees in 2020.
Petrol stations were the main beneficiaries of the petrol tax in October. Gasoline retailers also won a 0.75% increase in the state’s lottery sales commission, which was inserted at the last minute at the end of the state budget bill without passing a bill with similar language.
The wording of this bill, Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Miami, wrote Southern Strategy lobbyist Nelson Diaz, who has represented two clients on the bill: Sunshine Gasoline Distributors and the Florida Petroleum Dealers Association. Alvarez is on the Petroleum Merchants Association Legislative Committee, while Edge is on the Finance Committee.
According to the Aircraft Rental website, the cost of renting these planes ranges from $4,000 to $8,000 per flight hour. Donors can deduct cash donations, but under the Campaign Finance Act, applicants are only required to provide an estimate of the value of commercial airline tickets for travel on a similar route.
One potential ethical loophole, Wilcox said, is whether the governor’s policy office coordinates these thefts with campaign staff.
Campaign records show the campaign paid $15,000 to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement three times when the governor used the state jet for his campaign travel.
FDLE spokeswoman Gretel Plessinger said state planes belong to FDLE and are used for state business. “When used for a campaign event, the campaign must return an FDLE.”
No further details were released despite repeated requests to explain why the campaign should compensate the state.
DeSantis’ campaign did not respond to requests for comment. But campaign records show the dates of the payments were when the governor was traveling on official state business, indicating he was coordinating state affairs with campaign events.
Hosseini, who DeSantis appointed to the UF board of trustees in February 2021, has been instrumental in directing DeSantis’ controversial surgeon general, Joseph Ladabo, to a UF job.
UF’s new president, Ben Sassi, also chaired the search committee for Nebraska’s Republican United States Senator. Sassi attracted the attention of students and teachers for his conservative views.
Hosseini was able to use her plane to fly Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis from Tallahassee to Northeast Florida to attend a GOP political fundraiser for her husband’s campaign and an official event to promote a federal mental health grant, Politico told The Times.
It took close coordination between the governor’s office and First Lady DeSantis’ campaign staff to integrate the two, Politico reported.
The state Department of Transportation is building a $50 million ramp from Interstate 95 in Volusia County to access one of Hosseini’s housing projects.
“It’s probably a bit of a gray area,” Jewett said. “Everything seems perfectly legal according to the rules that have been established, but it can be a little gray because of the lack of transparency. This can raise questions about how much support is being given to the candidate and what they are getting in return. “
Daniel Smith, chair of the political science department at the University of Florida, acknowledged that lending the plane to DeSantis gives wealthy donors “time to reach out to a candidate and a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.”
Smith said this type of access has a more personal touch than writing a six-figure check. “I think a lot of these owners want to know if it’s their plane or not.”
“He’s obviously willing to take anybody’s money,” Smith said of DeSantis. “What is the exchange?
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