© 2024 WFIT
Public Radio for the Space Coast
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Watchdog group accuses Ron DeSantis of breaking campaign finance law

 Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waves to guests during a campaign event, Monday, July 31, 2023, in Rochester, N.H.
Charles Krupa
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waves to guests during a campaign event, Monday, July 31, 2023, in Rochester, N.H.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis broke campaign finance law by communicating about TV spending decisions with a big-dollar super PAC that is supporting his Republican bid for the White House, a nonpartisan government watchdog group alleged in a complaint filed Monday.

The Campaign Legal Center cited recent reporting by The Associated Press and others in the complaint, which was filed with the Federal Election Commission. It alleges that the degree of coordination and communication between DeSantis' campaign and Never Back Down, the super PAC supporting him, crossed a legal line set in place when the Supreme Court first opened the door over a decade ago to the unlimited raising and spending such groups are allowed to do.

“When a super PAC like Never Back Down illegally coordinates its election spending with a candidate’s campaign, the super PAC effectively becomes an arm of the campaign,” said Saurav Ghosh, director of federal campaign finance reform at Campaign Legal Center. “That circumvents federal contribution limits and reporting requirements, and gives the super PAC’s special interest backers, including corporations and ultra-wealthy individuals, a concerning level of influence over elected officials and policymaking.”

In a statement, DeSantis spokesman Andrew Romeo said the complaint was “baseless,” rooted in “unverified rumors and innuendo,” offering "just another example of how the Left is terrified of Ron DeSantis and will stoop to anything to stop him.”

The complaint comes amid widespread turmoil in DeSantis’s political operation as he struggles to overcome low polling numbers ahead of next month’s Iowa caucuses. The turmoil has extended to an unusual and very public airing of grievances as a steady stream of top-level strategists have departed from Never Back Down.

Last week, the AP reported that multiple people familiar with DeSantis’ political network said that he and his wife had expressed concerns about the messaging of Never Back Down, the largest super PAC supporting the governor’s campaign.

The governor and his wife, Casey, who is widely considered his top political adviser, were especially frustrated after the group took down a television ad last month that criticized leading Republican rival Nikki Haley for allowing a Chinese manufacturer into South Carolina when she was governor.

DeSantis’ team shared those messaging concerns with members of Never Back Down’s board, which includes Florida-based members with close ties to the governor, according to multiple people briefed on the discussions. Some of the board members then relayed the DeSantis team’s wishes to super PAC staff, which was responsible for executing strategy, the people said.

Previously, the DeSantis’ campaign strongly denied the governor has tried to influence the network of outside groups supporting him given the federal laws prohibiting coordination.

Regardless, it's unlikely that DeSantis will face any potential consequences in the immediate term.

The FEC often takes years to resolve complaints. And the agency's board itself often deadlocks on matters of campaign finance enforcement. Whenever the FEC deadlocks on an enforcement decision it effectively creates a new precedent that sanctions that activity that had been the subject of the complaint.

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.