Just days before Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to announce his much-anticipated bid for the White House, he is in the crosshairs, yet again, for his lavish and secretive use of privately funded travel which has taken him around the country. New reporting from The New York Times shows just how much DeSantis, who last year reported a net worth of $319,000, relies on his rich buddies to get around.
In a review of campaign finance reports, flight tracking databases and corporate records, the Times counted roughly 55 “wealthy, mostly Florida-based contributors and companies” who have financed DeSantis’s private air travel. The group includes “the heads of oil and gas companies, developers and homebuilders, and health care and insurance executives.”
Many are based in Florida and have long been associated with DeSantis; a few have business interests before the state. The Times spoke to a half dozen lobbyists and donors who said they “became accustomed to calls from the governor’s political aides asking for planes.”
“Voters deserve this information because they have a right to know who is trying to influence their elected officials and whether their leaders are prioritizing public good over the interests of their big-money benefactors,” Trevor Potter, the president of Campaign Legal Center and a Republican who once led the Federal Election Commission, told the Times.
Some of DeSantis’s travel has been arranged by a Michigan-based nonprofit founded in January that has ferried DeSantis around the country for speaking events, focusing on early primary states like South Carolina, Nevada, and Iowa. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the organization isn’t required to disclose its donors.
Last week, DeSantis moved to obscure the sources of his jet-setting even further, signing a bill that would give him and other state leaders a public records exemption for past and future travel records. DeSantis says the bill is intended to ward off security risks.
On Saturday, the puckish college student who made headlines in December after Twitter banned his account, which tracked Elon Musk’s private flights, told Business Insider that he’d set up a new account, @DeSantisJet, to monitor DeSantis’s private travel.
As the 2024 Republican primary heats up, DeSantis’s travel has come under fire from his main rival, former president Donald Trump. In late April, a Trump campaign Twitter account released a calendar graphic tracking DeSantis’s travel and claiming that the Florida governor had “spent half his time campaigning for President outside of Florida … while taxpayers pick up the tab.”
In response, the Governor’s office clarified that “the state does not coordinate or plan political travel, nor does the taxpayer fund political travel.”
DeSantis is widely expected to formally announce his campaign next week, after which he’ll face much stricter requirements for accepting and reporting campaign donations.
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