The Florida Ethics Commission has dismissed a lawsuit filed by allies of former President Trump who accused Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of coordinating a “shadow presidential campaign.”
Make America Great Again Inc., a pro-Trump PAC, had accused DeSantis of “unlawful conduct” in a 15-page complaint filed in March. Taylor Budowich, a former spokesperson for Trump and now the head of MAGA Inc., had alleged there were probable grounds to investigate whether the governor broke the law by raising funds through of his Ron DeSantis PAC friends, having his team interview political operatives in the early primary states, go on a “personally lucrative book tour,” and take other steps to run for president without officially declaring his candidacy to higher functions.
A spokeswoman for DeSantis, who is reportedly preparing to launch a presidential campaign in mid-May, called the complaint “frivolous and politically motivated” and said it was “inappropriate to use the ethics complaints of the ‘state for partisan ends’.
In a 12-page report obtained by Fox News Digital, the Florida Ethics Commission dismissed Budowich’s case “for failure to constitute a legally sufficient complaint.”
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The commission found that Budowich and MAGA Inc. repeatedly failed to make specific allegations against DeSantis that would violate Florida law.
For example, Budowich alleged that DeSantis “solicited and accepted millions of dollars in benefits,” with the understanding that those donations would influence his decision to step down as governor of Florida to run for president. But the commission said MAGA Inc. never alleged there was a specific “consideration” that would violate the law.
“The compliant does not indicate in a factual, substantial and inconclusive manner that [DeSantis] solicited or agreed to anything knowing that it would influence an official decision associated with his or her public office,” the ethics committee said. “The complaint details alleged actions taken by other organizations for the benefit of [DeSantis’] early presidential campaign, but never once expressly alleges that [DeSantis] and these organizations have an agreement or understanding, or that [DeSantis] has conditioned any public action on any donation, contribution, gift or other thing of value”.
MAGA Inc. also made several allegations that DeSantis “likely” made illegal profits from his book, “The Courage to Be Free,” including a $2 million advance, royalties from book sales, and speeches related to his book tour.
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Regarding the book tour, the commission said there was nothing to suggest that DeSantis’ book advance was “undeserved or disproportionate to what other similarly situated public figures might obtain for the same or similar work”.
“As regards the allegation that [DeSantis] solicited or accepted gifts associated with the book tour, full details of this allegation are presented speculatively,” the report said.
The commission also said Budowich failed to describe any “affirmative act or omission” by DeSantis that would constitute an abuse of his public position under the Florida Constitution and trigger an investigation.
The Ethics Committee brushed aside an allegation that DeSantis abused his position “with corrupt intent to profit himself” by making “approximately 15 out-of-state campaign trips accompanied by his official security details, for a reported cost of more than $2.4 million to Florida taxpayers.
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“The complaint does not state that the provision of a security detail to [DeSantis] when it travels is corrupted. There is a public purpose for providing protective services to the Governor and his family, even when he travels,” the report said.
Finally, the commission dismissed claims that DeSantis’ contractual relationship for his book tour is “adversarial” because it causes him to be “out for Florida,” citing a lack of “adequate factual basis for this allegation.” .
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“There is no intrinsic reason why [DeSantis]as governor, cannot travel out of state, and the complaint does not provide additional information to establish that such travel creates an ongoing or recurring conflict between his private interests and the performance of his public duties.” , the commission said.
The ethical complaint was an escalation in the Trump world’s preemptive attacks on DeSantis, who polls show is consistently Trump’s runner-up in hypothetical 2024 primary contests, even though he is not a declared candidate. It was likely doomed from the start, as five of the nine ethics committee members were appointed by DeSantis.
“It’s no surprise that another armed state entity controlled by DeSantis is ignoring the facts and the law to protect the governor,” Budowich told Fox News Digital. “There is ample evidence that DeSantis is running an illegal underground campaign for president and profiting from it at the expense of Florida taxpayers.”
Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.
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