U.S. President Donald Trump introduces Florida Governor Ron DeSantis during a homecoming campaign rally at the BB&T Center on November 26, 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. President Trump continues to campaign for re-election in the 2020 presidential race.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images
A pro-Trump super PAC on Wednesday said it is filing an ethics complaint against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, accusing him of waging a “shadow presidential campaign” in violation of state ethics and election laws.
A 15-page draft letter from Make America Great Again Inc. asks the Florida Commission on Ethics to investigate DeSantis, who is widely expected to be mounting a 2024 presidential bid. He is seen as former President Donald Trump’s biggest competition in the Republican primary.
If the commission finds DeSantis has violated Florida laws, it should impose the “most severe penalties permitted” — including disqualifying him from the ballot, the letter argued.
“Governor DeSantis knows, or should know, that his shadow presidential campaign is illegal under federal election law, Florida ethics laws prohibiting illegal gifts from political committees, and Florida ethics laws prohibiting illegal lobbying payments,” it said.
The letter was reported by NBC News earlier Wednesday.
The complaint was the latest escalation of the former president’s attacks on his likely rival. While other GOP rivals to Trump have either launched or hinted at presidential bids, DeSantis has garnered the most support among Trump alternatives in early primary polls.
DeSantis’ office brushed off the salvo from Trump’s allies.
“Adding this to the list of frivolous and politically motivated attacks,” Communications Director Taryn Fenske said in a statement to CNBC. She added, “It’s inappropriate to use state ethics complaints for partisan purposes.”
The Florida ethics commission did not provide a comment on the letter.
The broadside comes as DeSantis has authored a new political memoir and embarked on a multistate tour to promote it, two of numerous clear signs the governor is preparing a run for national office.
MAGA Inc.’s letter references that “personally lucrative book tour” as it alleges DeSantis and his associated political committees and allies have improperly accepted millions of dollars in gifts that are “clearly intended” to influence his eventual resignation as governor and campaign for president.
DeSantis’ book currently tops The New York Times’ Best Sellers list for hardcover nonfiction.
DeSantis is expected to hold off on announcing his presidential plans until after the Florida Legislature ends its current session in May.
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But the letter argues that DeSantis is already a de facto presidential candidate, and his reluctance to make it official is “no mere oversight.” Rather, 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 his official decision to resign from office under Florida’s resign to run law,” the super PAC alleged.
That law requires officerholders to resign from their current position in order to run for another post if the two terms would overlap.
Five of the nine members of the Florida ethics commission were appointed by DeSantis, including Chairman Glenton Gilzean, to whom the letter is addressed.