TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Florida ethics panel found no legal basis for a complaint filed by a pro-Donald Trump super PAC alleging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had violated a series of election and ethics-related laws.
The complaint, first reported by NBC News, was filed by Taylor Budowich, who runs a pro-Trump super, PAC MAGA Inc. It alleged that DeSantis has taken gifts in violation of state ethics rules from his own political committee and outside advocacy organizations, as well as part of a national tour to promote his book.
The commission said the 15-page complaint filed in March did not provide enough evidence to back those allegations.
“The complaint details alleged actions taken by other organizations for the benefit of respondent’s anticipated presidential campaign, but never once expressly alleges the respondent and these organizations have an agreement or understanding or that respondent has conditioned any public action on any donation, contribution, gift, or thing of value,” read the public report written by the commission's chairman, Glen Gilzean.
The commission did not initiate its own investigation because it found the complaint had no “legal sufficiency,” which is one of the first steps in the process.
The complaint centered on the idea that DeSantis' book tour and state contributions from outside groups were “unlawful because they serve his personal political objectives, are in furtherance of his personal financial gain at the expense of Florida taxpayers, and are intended to influence his official decision to resign from office.”
“We are not surprised by the decision for dismissal of these ridiculous claims against Governor DeSantis,” said Erin Perrine, communications director for the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down. “We have seen attempts before to weaponize government institutions against Republicans, and it’s deeply disappointing to see another Republican would attempt to use that Democrat playbook against Governor DeSantis, whose ethics remain unimpeachable.”
Budowich, who filed the complaint, said the finding was an example of a “weaponized state entity controlled by DeSantis.” The governor appoints members of the Florida Commission on Ethics.
"There is abundant evidence DeSantis is running an illegal shadow campaign for president and profiting from it at the expense of Florida taxpayers," he added.
The complaint alleged DeSantis' book deal and associated travel violated state ethics laws because of his extensive travel associated with the book tour, gifts he received while on tour and his $2 million book advance. The commission said there was no evidence backing up the allegations.
DeSantis’ “alleged book advance is not sufficiently alleged to indicate that it is unauthorized compensation,” read the commission’s report. “The complaint does not allege or otherwise demonstrate, for example, that the book advance is unearned or is disproportionate to what other similarly-situated public figures could obtain for the same or similar work.”
The complaint functionally represented the opening salvo in what has become regular attacks from Trump on DeSantis. DeSantis has largely ignored the attacks, but they have been effective.
Through most of 2022, Trump and DeSantis were neck-and-neck in public polling, but after Trump’s onslaught of attacks began, he has taken a significant lead over DeSantis. In most recent public polling, Trump has held large double digit leads, including an Emerson College poll last week that had Trump up by 46 percentage-points, 62-16.
DeSantis is not yet an announced candidate for 2024, but NBC News reported last week that he is planning a presidential exploratory committee in mid-May, and is likely eyeing a formal June announcement.
Trump responded to the idea of a DeSantis exploratory committee on Saturday by mocking the governor's poll numbers.
“He’s going to form an exploratory committee to determine — well, that’s a big step because he said he was never looking at committees,” Trump said on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast. “The donors are largely leaving him now.”
CORRECTION (May 1, 2023, 5:05 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated who led an Emerson College poll last week by 46 percentage points. It was Trump, not DeSantis.