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Trump team accuses DeSantis of breaking election laws in ‘shadow presidential campaign’

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In documents obtained by NBC News, former President Donald J. Trump, now running in a third campaign for president, has filed an ethics complaint against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis regarding his “shadow presidential campaign” for the 2024 election.

While he has not filed to run for president in 2024, DeSantis is widely expected to be a candidate in the Republican primary. In recent weeks, he’s traveled across the United States promoting a new memoir and pitching it to various organizations and events as a “blueprint” for the country, based on Florida’s current system and policies.

On March 10, the Washington Post reported that DeSantis had privately confirmed his plans to run for president in 2024, though DeSantis representatives have declined to comment.

The document from Trump comes just five days later, submitted to the Florida Commission on Ethics in Tallahassee, is titled “Conduct violations by Governor DeSantis,” and lists what Trump’s representatives say are violations of four different Florida statutes.

According to the Trump document, DeSantis has engaged in ethics violations that are “unlawful because they serve his personal political objectives,” furthering what the document calls DeSantis’ personal financial gain at the expense of Florida taxpayers.

“It is no secret that Governor DeSantis aspires to national prominence,” the document says in its introduction, also describing the Florida governor as “already a de facto candidate for President of the United States under federal election laws.”

Trump alleges in the document that the governor’s “failure to declare his candidacy is no mere oversight,” but instead a coordinated strategy to accept “unethical gifts” and “illegal campaign contributions,” before leaving office to run for president. Trump’s document calls the attempts “ham-handed maneuverings.”

Opening the list of alleged ethics violations, Trump’s document says, “Unlike other Florida officials, Governor DeSantis is leveraging his elected office and breaching his associated duties in a coordinated effort to develop his national profile, enrich himself and his political allies, and influence the national electorate. A non-comprehensive list of Governor DeSantis’s recent activities clearly indicates that he has abused his office and abdicated his official duties in favor of pursuing his national political interests.”

Listing alleged violations by DeSantis, the document says:

  • Governor DeSantis has met with influential figures in early primary states
  • Governor DeSantis’s team is vetting operatives in early primary states
  • Governor DeSantis appeared on television and radio advertisements calling for a convention to amend the United States Constitution
  • People allied with Governor DeSantis launched a 501(c)(4) organization to support his presidential candidacy by sponsoring his events in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago;
  • People close to Governor DeSantis are interviewing staff for a presidential campaign
  • Allies of Governor DeSantis have formed and are raising soliciting dollar donations for a federal draft PAC named Run, Ron, Run!
  • Prominent Republican consultants are recruiting staffers for a DeSantis aligned federal PAC
  • Governor DeSantis met with individuals who are likely to play key roles in his presidential campaign
  • Governor DeSantis’s Florida political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, continues to fundraise (despite him being term limited in the State of Florida) and has made, in violation of state and federal campaign finance laws, inappropriate expenditures aimed at a national audience
  • Governor DeSantis has launched a personally lucrative book tour

The document also accuses DeSantis of having solicited and accepted millions of dollars of “benefits” which are classified “properly” as gifts under Florida law.

Additionally, the document details those alleged gifts as:

  • Friends of Ron DeSantis, Governor DeSantis’s Florida political committee, has raised approximately $12 million and made expenditures in excess of $1.6 million since January 1, 2023, to promote his presidential candidacy;
  • According to the most recent data, Federal political committees, including Ready for Ron, Ron to the Rescue, and Courageous Conservatives PAC, are actively raising money and making expenditures advocating Ron DeSantis’s election as president;
    • Ready for Ron made $281,405.21 in disbursements,19
    • Ron to the Rescue made $1,273.00 in disbursements
    • Courageous Conservatives PAC made $277,617.23 in disbursements
  • The founder of Ron to the Rescue, a Federal Super PAC, says “he has 10 staffers and about $20 million in commitments to support a DeSantis presidential campaign.”
  • The Republican State Leadership Committee, a federal political committee, has thrown its financial support behind Governor DeSantis and has its own fundraising activities in support of Governor DeSantis’s presidential run and has promoted his book
  • Courageous Conservatives PAC has placed paid digital advertisements promoting Governor DeSantis’s presidential run
  • Federal political committees are reportedly making consulting payments for potential presidential campaign staff
  • Ron to the Rescue, a Federal Super PAC, had “a booth at the New Hampshire GOP meeting, manned by staff from the super PAC and volunteers who are from New Hampshire, including former state officials who are supporting the Florida governor[;]”
  • Attendees to the Lincoln Reagan Dinner 2023, sponsored by the Harris County Republican Party, are reportedly paying $500 or more per ticket to receive a copy of Governor DeSantis’s book

Additionally, the document says a Jan. 30 formation of 501(c)4 “And to the Republic,” which has hosted multiple events featuring the governor, “will no doubt involve the solicitation of even more contributions in furtherance of his presidential run” while hosting future events with DeSantis.

Trump’s document also says DeSantis has “solicited and received other gifts” associated with the same organization, and “likely include” use of real property for the book tour and speaking engagements, air and ground transportation, and other events serviecs.

The document also alleges that DeSantis has directly and indirectly solicited gifts, as well as used state-funded resources “improperly” as a method of keeping the gifts in accounts for supporting presidential aspirations. Citing a report by News 6 Orlando, Trump’s document said DeSantis’ security detail has traveled with him for out-of-state events to further his presidential campaign.

Trump, by filing the document, accused DeSantis of breaching the public trust and enriching himself through an “illegal gifting scheme” while “skirting federal campaign finance laws” and impacting a potential decision to resign as governor to run for president.

Current state law in Florida requires resignation from office to run, meaning that should DeSantis declare his candidacy in time for qualifiers, Lt. Gov. Jeannette Nuñez would immediately serve out the remainder of the governor’s current term in office.

The document from the Trump team also alleges that the various political committees that support DeSantis’ potential run for president are violations of the law as well, saying that since they are not registered lobbyists, they are legally blocked from making any lobbying expenditures. The document says that as long as DeSantis is serving as governor, and has not declared his official candidacy for president, he is violating Florida law and federal election regulations.

Responding to WFLA.com’s request for comment, a spokesman for the governor said they were “Adding this to the list of frivolous and politically motivated attacks. It’s inappropriate to use state ethics complaints for partisan purposes.”

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