Self-styled “blue-collar” Florida governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis spent late 2018 living large on gifts from his wealthiest donors — without disclosing them to ethics regulators.
According to a report from The Washington Post, in the months between his election and inauguration as governor, DeSantis took at least six undisclosed flights on private jets, accepted a trip to the Augusta National Golf Club, and received various other perks including fine dining and lodging that were not disclosed to the Florida Ethics Commission.
“All travel and events you mention — from almost five years ago — were compliant and received proper payment,” Andrew Romeo, a DeSantis campaign spokesman, told the Post. “Efforts to fundraise for state political parties and cultivate relationships with state officials are standard for political leaders, especially during an election year.”
Florida ethics rules allow for public officers to “reimburse” a donor for the cost of travel at “the same value as an unrestricted coach fare,” potentially allowing them to accept expensive, private flights, not spend more than a standard ticket, and not be obligated to report the travel. According to documents reviewed by the Post, the DeSantis campaign kept a list of donors with access to private aircraft, and DeSantis’ spokesperson did not clarify if the governor had personally reimbursed the providers of the flights.
In one instance, DeSantis accepted a trip to the Congaree Golf Club and the Augusta National Golf Club in the company of Mori Hosseini, a Florida real-estate mogul. He traveled to the prestigious golf course on Hosseini’s private plane. During the trip, ground transportation for the party was provided, in at least one instance, by DeSantis’ government-funded security team. At Augusta, DeSantis stayed in a suite on the property built for former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The cost of his room and dining expenses were not reported in his disclosures.
DeSantis’ relationship with Hosseini has been scrutinized in the past. Earlier this year, the governor’s administration confirmed that Hosseini had supplied DeSantis with a golf simulator on “loan” for use in the Florida Governor’s mansion. Over the pandemic, the DeSantis administration directed $92 million dollars in Covid relief funds to a highway interchange project sought by Hosseini, who planned to develop properties in its vicinity.
The Post also found that DeSantis had taken at least four flights on a private jet owned by his donor John Cwik, who told the Post he did not know how the flights had been paid for.
DeSantis’ taste for luxury trips and travel is a stark contrast to the working man, blue-collar image he’s tried to create for himself over the course of his presidential campaign. “I was a blue-collar kid growing up,” DeSantis said during a May speech, “I was given nothing, I had to earn what I got.”