A super PAC aligned with former President Trump is formally accusing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of waging a “shadow presidential campaign,” a charge that marks a dramatic escalation in the ongoing feud between Trump’s allies and his prospective 2024 rival.
The group, Make America Great Again Inc., is filing a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics alleging that the combined force of pro-DeSantis super PACs, state-level political contributions and the governor’s “personally lucrative book tour” amounts to a de facto White House bid.
The 15-page complaint argues that the flurry of activities by DeSantis and his allied groups “are unlawful because they serve his personal political objectives, are in furtherance of his personal financial gain at the expense of Florida taxpayers, and are intended to influence his official decision to resign from office.”
“It is no secret that Governor DeSantis aspires to national prominence. In fact, and as detailed herein, Governor DeSantis is already a de facto candidate for President of the United States under federal election laws,” reads the complaint, which was first reported by NBC News.
It adds: “Governor DeSantis’s hamhanded maneuverings have rendered him irreparably conflicted and have left the statehouse vacant.”
DeSantis communications director Taryn Fenske rebuked the complaint, calling it “politically motivated.”
“Adding this to the list of frivolous and politically motivated attacks,” she said in a statement. “It’s inappropriate to use state ethics complaints for partisan purposes.”
DeSantis hasn’t jumped into the race for the 2024 presidential nomination and has repeatedly brushed off questions about his intentions. Still, he is widely expected to run and has said that he will make a decision after the Florida state legislature wraps up its annual session in May.
He has ramped up his travel schedule in recent weeks, going on tour to promote his new book “The Courage to Be Free,” while stopping in states including Iowa and Nevada, which hold two critical early nominating contests. He’s also expected to travel next month to New Hampshire, another early primary state, to headline a state GOP dinner.
DeSantis’s relative silence on his 2024 plans, however, hasn’t stopped Trump and his allies from going on the attack. The former president has ramped up his criticism of DeSantis since launching his latest bid for the White House in November.
On Monday, he lashed out at DeSantis during a debut campaign speech in Iowa, accusing him of supporting cuts to Social Security and comparing him to Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee and one of Trump’s biggest Republican critics.
But the ethics complaint marks the first time that Trump’s allies have sought to drag DeSantis into a legal fight.
The complaint hinges on Florida’s resign-to-run law, which requires officeholders seeking a new office to resign from their current post if the terms of the two offices overlap. The filing points to a flurry of activity to argue that DeSantis has “abused his office and abdicated his official duties in favor of pursuing his national political interests.”
In making that argument, MAGA Inc.’s complaint points to the creation of a DeSantis-aligned super PAC called “Run, Ron, Run!” That group was formed last week by former Trump administration official Ken Cuccinelli. It also notes that DeSantis has met with “influential figures in early primary states” and claims that his political team “is vetting operatives in early primary states.”
Whether the Florida Ethics Commission actually investigates DeSantis is another question altogether. Five of its nine members were appointed by him. The complaint also asks for stiff penalties for DeSantis if he is liable for any violations.
“Should the Commission find that a violation occurred, it should impose penalties that include removing Governor DeSantis from office and disqualifying him from any future ballot in the State of Florida,” MAGA Inc. said in a statement.