TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Donald Trump’s allies are escalating their battle with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, formally accusing him of violating state ethics and election laws with his «shadow presidential campaign.»
Make America Great Again Inc. is file a 15 page complaint Wednesday with the Florida Ethics Commission, a draft of which was obtained exclusively by NBC News.
He asks the commission to investigate whether pro-DeSantis super PACs, his «personally lucrative book tour» and an ongoing spate of statewide campaign contributions, among other things, «are illegal because they serve his personal political goals, are in furtherance of their personal financial gain at the expense of Florida taxpayers, and intend to influence his official decision to resign from office.»
Since Trump announced in November that he would run for president again, he has become more publicly hostile toward DeSantis, a former political protege who is now expected to be his main rival in the Republican primary. That includes branding DeSantis with Trump’s trademark nicknames and trying to frame him as a moderate politician out of step with the Republican base.
But the complaint marks the first time Trump supporters have escalated the dispute from campaign rhetoric to a formal legal fight.
DeSantis’ office did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump allies face a difficult task getting the commission to investigate DeSantis, considering he appointed five of the nine members.
The draft complaint details steps DeSantis has taken in recent months that appear to orchestrate an upcoming presidential bid.
DeSantis is widely expected to run for president, but has yet to be formally announced. The complaint alleges, however, that he has already checked all the boxes for someone considering a run for the White House, including stops in the early states of the primaries; write a book (his is entitled «The courage to be free»); raising tens of millions of dollars to go to a state-level committee that could transfer to a federal super PAC; and seeing a constellation of super PACs emerge led by supporters and an outside nonprofit group, some with the stated intent of getting DeSantis to run for president.
The pro-Trump super PAC says those steps, when taken together, violate a handful of Florida laws about accepting illegal gifts from officials.
“This letter provides ample evidence to support a finding of probable cause by the Florida Ethics Commission that Governor DeSantis, in conjunction with certain associated political committees, political consultants, and a 501(c)(4) organization, has solicited and received millions of dollars worth of illegal gifts in violation of the ethics laws of the state of Florida and the Florida Constitution,” the draft complaint states.
It is addressed to the chairman of the Ethics Committee, Glenton Gilzean, whom DeSantis appointed.
DeSantis has repeatedly dismissed questions about whether he is considering a run for president, and allies have insisted he is focused on running Florida rather than planning a presidential campaign.
The Trump team bases its complaint, in part, on Florida’s resignation law, which requires politicians running for a new office to resign if the terms of the two offices overlap. DeSantis was reelected last year to another four-year term by a nearly 20-point margin.
Florida lawmakers have changed the law in the past, most notably when former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist was on the short list to be John McCain’s presidential running mate in 2008. The law was changed in 2018, but Republican legislative leaders have openly discussed switching again during the current legislative session for a possible DeSantis presidential run.
“If an individual who is the governor of Florida is running for president, I think they should be allowed to run,” Republican state Senate Speaker Kathleen Passidomo told reporters in November.
Trump’s allies argue that because the law has not yet been changed, any gifts or money accepted to influence his decision to resign office to run for president violates state law that prevents officials from accepting gifts designed to influence an “official action”. ”
The ethics complaint specifically points to a new Virginia-based super PAC called Run, Ron, Run!, which was created by Ken Cuccinelli, a former top official in the Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security.
“The future of America is Ron DeSantis,” Cuccinelli said in a promotional video announcing the new committee last week.
The creation of committees like Cuccinelli’s and other super PACs considered less viable vehicles for pro-DeSantis donors represent illegal attempts to persuade DeSantis to resign from office, MAGA Inc.’s draft complaint argues.
“Run, Ron, Run!, which was formed on March 8, 2023, exists with the sole intention of inciting Governor DeSantis to run for President and exercising his official judgment to submit an irrevocable resignation pursuant to the resignation law. to run from Florida,” he says.
DeSantis has also raised over $10 million for a statewide political committee called the Friends of Ron DeSantis since the beginning of the year. The committee has long been his main fundraising vehicle, and the money can be transferred to a federal super PAC, but Trump’s team says that because DeSantis faced term limits, the committee’s continued spending represents an attempt to boost his presidential aspirations.
“While only publicly mocking his private decision to run for president,” the draft complaint reads: “Friends of Ron DeSantis, Governor DeSantis’ Florida political committee, has made Governor DeSantis’ intentions clear with a new ad campaign ostensibly promoting his book, claiming, ‘That’s just the price you have to pay to save this country.