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Gov. Ron DeSantis' 2022 reelection dollars financing White House run violates FEC rules, watchdog alleges

'It's as if [DeSantis] basically completely circumvented the federal rules on who you can raise money from and how much you can raise,' Erin Chlopak says
Posted at 6:27 PM, May 31, 2023

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' presidential bid is facing scrutiny after a nonprofit watchdog filed a complaint against his campaign for allegedly trying to repurpose millions in unspent funds from his 2022 reelection to support a White House run.

According to the Campaign Legal Center complaint, that kind of transfer would be a violation of federal campaign finance laws concerning soft money.

"It's as if [DeSantis] basically completely circumvented the federal rules on who you can raise money from and how much you can raise," Erin Chlopak, Campaign Legal Center's senior director for campaign finance, said.

The complaint centers on the former Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC, which raised hundreds of millions for the governor when he was seeking a second term. The leftover $80 million was left unspent after election night, until recently when DeSantis cut ties with the PAC. The PAC then changed its name to Empower Parents and according to the New York Times supposedly was ready to funnel funds to the DeSantis 2024 Super PAC Never Back Down.

"The entire purpose of the Federal Election Commission's enforcement process is to investigate where there appears to be reason to believe there's a violation," Chlopak said. "That low standard has certainly been met here."

Never Back Down and Empower Parents didn't offer any immediate response to the allegations made by the CLC. However, state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, who chairs the former DeSantis PAC, recently told us leftover money from Empower Parents couldn't touch the White House run.

"The goal of the PAC is to support candidates that believe in empowering parents in parental rights, and those candidates that are fighting for that," he said May 18. "It's a state PAC. So, the only thing that we can do with it is back state candidates or anybody that falls under a state election, so that's your local school board, county commissioner, legislative office."

There's evidence supporting Ingoglia's claim. The latest Empower Parents finance data from May 25 shows a contribution of $1 million to a similarly named PAC run by current Florida House Speaker Paul Renner. Never Back Down doesn't make an appearance in the records, and the super PAC has yet to file its complete financial report.

It also remains unclear how quickly the FEC might respond to the complaint. Chlopak said it could take months, even years, for regulators to resolve an issue. Even so, she was hopeful the complaint would help shed light on what her watchdog finds murky.

"Having a candidate be able to raise tens of millions of dollars that don't comply with the federal rules that are designed to ensure our system is not corrupt, that it's transparent, that everyone is playing by the same rules only further erodes that confidence in our election process and democratic institutions," Chlopak said.