As Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida begins his presidential bid, officials in his administration have solicited donations from lobbyists and endorsements from lawmakers in the state, blurring the line between his taxpayer-funded office and his political campaign.
The outreach by the governor’s office, which would normally fall to Mr. DeSantis’s campaign staff, was described by two people who said they were approached by administration officials and who insisted on anonymity. In at least one case, a member of Mr. DeSantis’s administration sent a text message to a lobbyist with a link to his presidential fund-raising platform.
NBC News first reported the solicitations to the lobbyists.
The people who were approached discussed the conversations only on the condition of anonymity, out of fear of reprisals by the governor’s office, and insisted that the government officials not be named so as to avoid revealing their own identities.
Representatives for Mr. DeSantis’s office and campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr. DeSantis has yet to sign Florida’s $117 billion budget, over which he retains a line-item veto — meaning he can, with the stroke of a pen, eliminate spending projects sought by lobbyists and legislators in Tallahassee, the capital, where he has exerted firm control over the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The outreach to lobbyists gave the impression that donations would be tracked by the governor’s office, according to two people familiar with the matter.
In addition to the efforts to secure support from lobbyists, the main super PAC backing Mr. DeSantis’s bid announced last week that 99 of Florida’s 113 Republican state legislators had endorsed Mr. DeSantis for president. Several lawmakers said privately that they feared he might veto their bills or spending projects if they did not support him. Two said they had been contacted by members of the governor’s administration about making endorsements.
As governor, Mr. DeSantis has sought to expand the power of his office and has relied on the specter of political retribution, bending legislators to do his bidding or else face primary challenges and targeting corporations like Disney that he has clashed with.
The unusual outreach to lobbyists and lawmakers highlights the careful line that Mr. DeSantis and his allies must walk as he seeks the nation’s highest post while governing its third largest state.
Under Florida law, state employees are generally allowed to participate in political campaigns if they do so during their personal time, with their personal devices and without making reference to their official duties or authority, among other factors.
Ethics experts said the accounts of DeSantis administration officials’ aiding his campaign merited further scrutiny — but the members of the Florida Commission on Ethics, which looks into allegations of ethical violations by government employees, are appointed by Mr. DeSantis and his allies in the Legislature.
“The conduct raises very serious and substantial questions,” said Anthony V. Alfieri, founding director of the Center for Ethics and Public Service at the University of Miami School of Law.
Juan-Carlos Planas, a Florida elections lawyer, said the governor’s executive staff and political team should maintain clear boundaries.
“Government is not supposed to be overtly political,” Mr. Planas said. “People have to be able to deal with the government knowing that the campaign is a separate entity. When you start blurring the line, it becomes autocratic.”
Mr. DeSantis has made urgent efforts to raise money for his campaign to take on former President Donald J. Trump, who boasts an army of small donors. On Thursday, Mr. DeSantis’s campaign said it had raked in a record $8.2 million in the first official day of his run for the White House. The remarkable dollar amount helped quiet criticism of his glitch-filled campaign announcement on Twitter a day earlier.
At least some of the haul came from Florida lobbyists. Many of the lobbyists and their clients have projects within the state budget that Mr. DeSantis could choose to veto — giving them a clear incentive to contribute when asked. Several state lobbyists attended a daylong fund-raising session with Mr. DeSantis at the Four Seasons hotel in Miami on Thursday.
Aided by the event, which was called Ron-O-Rama, Mr. DeSantis raised roughly twice as much money as Mr. Trump did in the 24 hours after his criminal indictment this year. The sum broke the previous one-day record of $6.3 million set by Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2019.
Mr. DeSantis is also under pressure to wrench key Republican endorsements away from Mr. Trump, who scored an early victory last month by securing the support of a majority of Florida Republicans in Congress.
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