The fundraiser raises questions about Ron DeSantis’ use of the state jet

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign for president is not going well as former President Donald Trump continues to dominate the polls and fundraising.

Still, on Wednesday, DeSantis took time from the campaign trail to dedicate a county park that was renamed in his honor.

Governor Ron DeSantis Park in Southwest Florida’s Manatee County features pickleball courts, playgrounds, fitness trails and dog parks. The pickleball pitches may not have been the real draw for DeSantis, however.

Later in the day, he held a presidential fundraiser at an exclusive golf club near the park, where guests paid a minimum of $1,500 to hear the governor speak about Israel and other issues.

DeSantis appeared to have flown to Wednesday’s events on his state jet, raising questions about whether taxpayer resources benefited his presidential campaign.

DeSantis’ wife, Casey DeSantis, may even follow suit.

The state plane departed for Sarasota a second time a day later on Thursday, October 19. Casey DeSantis had long been slated — the event was announced in April — to headline a Sarasota GOP fundraiser that took place Thursday night. She also held an official event at New College of Florida earlier in the day to announce a disability employment program. The event was announced that day.

This isn’t the first time the governor’s office has appeared to use a state jet to double-up on public appearances and private fundraisers. State law prohibits the state’s elected chief executive from using the plane for personal use, but by bundling the two Manatee County events — one official and one personal — taxpayers can cover the fundraising flights.

“His use of public resources to supplement his campaign is a consistent pattern,” said Ben Wilcox, research director and co-founder of the government watchdog group Integrity Florida.

Although DeSantis’ plane travel has been under scrutiny for months, the governor’s office spokesman Jeremy Redfern said the governor is following the law.

“Governor DeSantis uses the state aircraft only for state business, in accordance with the law,” Redfern said.

A history of expensive air travel

Even before he ran for president, the New York Times reported that DeSantis relied on a nonprofit organization to pay for private jet travel in an arrangement that shields the donors footing the bill from public view that ethics experts describe as questionable .

Most recently, the Times reported that a super PAC, which does not have to coordinate with the DeSantis campaign, is paying to fly the candidate to PAC events.

Private jet travel to campaigns and fundraisers isn’t cheap. Politico reported that DeSantis’ presidential campaign spent $1.5 million in the third quarter on private jet companies, with payments going to six different jet companies over the summer.

The use of private jets contributed to a financial crisis for DeSantis’ campaign, which spent almost all the money it raised in the third quarter.

The campaign is trying to control spending. Some political observers believe that bringing an official state event to a political fundraiser may be an attempt to justify flying to the fundraiser on the government dime.

Collection of travel records that DeSantis has protected

DeSantis’ travel records are not public after the governor signed legislation this year exempting them from Florida’s open records laws. USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida used used aircraft identification records to trace DeSantis’ plane on this and several other trips.

A person familiar with the governor’s travel said he flew into Sarasota Bradenton International Airport for the events in Manatee County, and flight records back that up.

The Florida Legislature approved the purchase of a $15.5 million Cessna Citation Latitude jet for use by DeSantis in 2020. The aircraft is registered with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The ADS-B Exchange flight tracking website shows the FDLE plane departing Tallahassee at 4:27 PM and arriving in Sarasota at 5:08 PM. The park dedication ceremony was at 5:30 p.m

DeSantis Flight Tracking: The Florida student who followed Elon Musk’s plane on Twitter is now following Ron DeSantis

It does not appear that DeSantis returned home on the state plane. Departed Sarasota for Tallahassee at 6:03 PM on Wednesday.

The fundraiser at The Concession Golf Club in eastern Manatee County began at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to the invitation.

DeSantis returned to the campaign trail Thursday with an event in South Carolina launching a coalition of veterans.

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Video: Candidate DeSantis Announces AU Veterans Coalition Campaign

US presidential candidate Ron DeSantis makes a campaign announcement for the Anderson University Veterans Coalition during a campaign rally in Anderson, South Carolina on October 19.

Political meddling in politics: ‘Everybody does it’

The Manatee County events aren’t the first time DeSantis has planned official appearances and fundraisers on the same day and location, and he’s far from the only elected official to pair such events.

For example, former President Barack Obama visited the Miami area in 2015, where he visited the National Hurricane Center and held two fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee.

“Everybody does,” said a senior Republican from Florida. “Because the goal is to shift the cost of your campaign basically to the taxpayers.”

Wilcox said the governor is “adept at blurring the lines between his public business and his campaign.”

“A public servant is supposed to draw a bright line between the two,” Wilcox added. “However, it is not unusual for government officials to also campaign to test the limits of what they can legally get away with.” That seems to be happening here.”

DeSantis’ Manatee County fundraiser was held at The Concession Golf Club, one of the region’s finest private clubs. Several dozen guests gathered in The Concession’s banquet hall, where they munched on appetizers and listened to DeSantis deliver on familiar topics.

The fundraiser was hosted by former Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, who also attended the park dedication, along with prominent homebuilders Pat Neal and Carlos Beruff and Concession developer Bruce Cassidy, according to an invitation obtained by USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida.

Those attending the fundraiser were asked to donate $11,600 to participate in the “VIP Roundtable.” Just attending the reception costs $1,500.

The familiar DeSantis flight pattern

Last year, the FDLE plane used by the governor flew to Fort Myers on May 3, according to the ADS-B Exchange.

DeSantis held a news conference at 2:15 p.m. that day at Lover’s Key State Park.

Later that day, he attended two fundraisers an hour north in Sarasota, and that evening the plane flew back to Tallahassee from Fort Myers.

The governor’s press conference was supposed to announce $20 million in Sustainable Florida grants to various communities, something he could have done with a press release, but instead used as an opportunity for a public event.

Fundraisers DeSantis held later in the day included one at a Siesta Key estate that required a minimum contribution of $25,000 to attend.

In 2021, DeSantis held a fundraiser in Boca Raton on August 18 at 5:00 p.m. The governor held three public events earlier that day, first appearing at the Florida Hospitality and Lodging Association conference in Hollywood before holding afternoon press conferences in Pembroke Pines and West Palm Beach to announce new monoclonal antibody treatment sites. antibodies.

Flight tracking data shows his plane flew from Tallahassee to Fort Lauderdale and then to West Palm Beach that day. DeSantis finished the day at the governor’s mansion, where he gave an interview with FOX News anchor Sean Hannity.

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