Former President Donald Trump’s allies are battling with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, formally accusing him of violating state ethics and election laws with his “shadow presidential campaign.”
Make America Great Again Inc. is filing a 15-page complaint Wednesday with the Florida Commission on Ethics, a draft of which was obtained exclusively by NBC News.
It asks the commission to probe whether pro-DeSantis super PACs, his “personally lucrative book tour” and a continued wave of state-level campaign contributions, among other things, “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.”
Trump had announced in November that he is again running for president and he has grown more publicly hostile toward DeSantis, a former political protégé now expected to be his chief rival in the Republican primaries. It includes branding DeSantis with Trump’s trademark nicknames and trying to frame him as a political moderate out of step with the GOP base.
But the complaint is the first time Trump’s supporters have elevated the feud from campaign trail rhetoric to a formal legal fight.
“Adding this to the list of frivolous and politically motivated attacks — it’s inappropriate to use state ethics for partisan purposes,” said Taryn Fenske, DeSantis’ communications director.
Trump’s allies face a tall order in getting the commission to investigate DeSantis, considering he appointed five of the nine members. In theory, if he did face penalties, they could include fines, public censure, ballot disqualification, removal from office or impeachment.
The draft complaint details steps DeSantis has taken in recent months that appear to orchestrate a coming presidential bid.
The pro-Trump super PAC says those steps, when taken together, violate a handful of Florida laws about officeholders’ accepting illegal gifts.
“This letter provides ample evidence to support a finding of probable cause by the Florida Commission on Ethics that Governor DeSantis, in concert with certain associated political committees, political consultants and a 501(c)(4) organization, has solicited and received millions of dollars’ worth of illegal gifts in violation of Florida State ethics laws and the Florida Constitution,” the draft complaint reads.
It is addressed to chairman of the Ethics Commission, Glenton Gilzean, whom DeSantis appointed.