Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Files Ethics Complaints Against Governor DeSantis’ Staff for Illegal Fundraising and Endorsement Solicitation

Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Nikki Fried has filed ethics complaints against three staffers of Governor Ron DeSantis. Fried filed complaints against Chief of Staff James Uthmeier, Legislative Affairs Director Stephanie Kopelousos, and Director of Policy and Budget Chris Spencer with both the Florida Commission on Ethics and the Florida Elections Commission. The complaints allege that the staffers participated in the illegal solicitation of campaign contributions from lobbyists and an “unethical and illegal” solicitation of endorsements for DeSantis’ presidential campaign during meetings with lawmakers regarding the state budget.

Fried mentioned that NBC News and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune carried out investigative reporting, which suggests that the governor’s team unlawfully requested federal campaign donations from lobbyists. According to NBC News, DeSantis officials were soliciting lobbyists to contribute funds towards the governor’s presidential bid.[0] “Any reasonable person could infer from the reporting that our Governor was holding the state budget hostage in exchange for political endorsements and donations — actions that are both unethical and illegal,” Fried said in a statement.[1]

The Washington Post obtained records which reveal that affluent contributors loaned a golf simulator to Ron DeSantis for use in the Governor’s Mansion while he was serving as Florida’s governor.[2] In Fried’s claims, the employees engaged in unlawful requests for campaign funds from lobbyists, as well as an unethical and illegal proposal of endorsements for DeSantis’ presidential bid during discussions with legislators concerning the state budget.

Fried said in a statement, “These allegations represent a gross violation of state laws and ethics, and we could not in good conscience ignore them.[0] If accurate, they demonstrate once again Ron’s exploitation of his public position for personal benefit.[0] Public officials are employed to serve the people of Florida, not line Ron’s pockets.”[3]

Jeremy Redfern, a DeSantis spokesman, called the complaints “politically motivated attacks,” adding, “If the executive team wants to fundraise, knock doors, or volunteer their free time, more power to them – they have First Amendment rights like every American.” DeSantis also defended his staff’s actions, saying they have the right to fundraise but don’t use state resources to do it.[3]

In filing these complaints, Fried has expressed her hope that the complaints system will help prevent this kind of abuse of power and that the people of Florida will receive swift and just rulings from both commissions.[3] She added that future elected officials need to know that they can’t intimidate and harass people into getting what they want.[3]

0. “Fried files ethics complaints against DeSantis’ state staff over political fundraising” Miami Herald, 22 Jun. 2023, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article276621961.html

1. “Gov. DeSantis defends staffers against ethics complaints” CBS Miami, 22 Jun. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/miami/news/ron-desantis-defends-staffers-against-ethics-complaints

2. “Ron DeSantis received golf simulator from shady donation” The Comeback, 21 Jun. 2023, https://thecomeback.com/politics/ron-desantis-golf-simulator-donation-wealthy.html

3. “Florida Democratic Party chairwoman files ethics complaints against three DeSantis staffers” msnNOW, 21 Jun. 2023, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/florida-democratic-party-chairwoman-files-ethics-complaints-against-three-desantis-staffers/ar-AA1cRxXY

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