DeSantis' undeclared presidential campaign may be allowing him to skirt campaign ethics rules

Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd at Adventure Outdoors gun store in Smyrna, Georgia.John Bazemore/ AP Photo
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to make an announcement soon about his 2024 presidential plans.

  • In the meantime, DeSantis has been flying all over for what looks a lot like campaign events.

  • Experts told The New York Times his delay in formally announcing may be a way to avoid campaign finance rules.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has leaned on mostly anonymous wealthy allies for their private jets as he tours the country, skirting ethics rules that would force him to publicly report those donations once he formally launches his bid for the White House.

The workaround has stirred questions among ethics experts who say the campaign rules DeSantis has so far avoided are there to prevent powerful secret donors from influencing political candidates, The New York Times reported. DeSantis is expected to formally announce his bid for president next week.

"Governor DeSantis, whether he intends to run for president or not, should be clearly and fully disclosing who is providing support to his political efforts," Trevor Potter, a Republican who once led the Federal Election Commission and is the president of the Campaign Legal Center, told the Times.

Potter added that voters "have a right to know who is trying to influence their elected officials."

A spokesperson for DeSantis did not respond to Insider's request for comment.

As he tests the waters for a presidential run, DeSantis has traveled across the country. He spoke last week at three different events across Iowa, a key primary state, even making a dig at former President Donald Trump, who is seeking reelection in 2024.

The Times reported DeSantis has visited several other states, including other key primary states like South Carolina and Nevada. In February, he traveled to four states in one day, though his public schedule said: "No scheduled events."

Many of DeSantis' trips have been arranged by a Michigan nonprofit called And To The Republic, which promotes conservative policies. The group has organized several engagements for DeSantis around the country. The nonprofit protects the identities of those funding those trips and engagements — another concern for ethics experts, the Times reported. 

Some of the donors in the Times' investigation have business interests in Florida. The Times found that in February, DeSantis traveled on a jet owned by Jeffrey Soffer, a hotel owner who several people said has lobbying interests related to his resort in Miami Beach.

That trip was also organized by And To The Republic. Tori Sachs, the nonprofit's executive director, would not disclose to the Times who paid for DeSantis' flights or how much they cost.

Florida prohibits those in office from accepting gifts from lobbyists — or from companies that employ lobbyists — unless the gifts are campaign contributions. Sachs told the Times that DeSantis' recent trips through And To The Republic were not gifts or political contributions, instead calling it "transportation for special guests" that Sachs said was "in full compliance with the law."

Earlier this month, DeSantis signed a new Florida law to redact details about the trips he takes on both state and private planes, including the names of those who travel with him — both in the future and the past.

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