Gov. Ron DeSantis said his recent plane ride to New York City, chartered by a South Florida billionaire owner of a resort hotel and gambling casino, was “no favor done.”
The Feb. 28 plane ride was first reported by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which found the excursion was paid for by the Republican Party of Florida and accompanied by Jeffrey Soffer, an Aventura billionaire.
The plane is owned Soffer, who also owns the Fontainebleau resort hotel in Miami Beach and the Big Easy Casino in Hallandale Beach.
“It’s not me getting anything,” DeSantis told reporters at a Tuesday press conference. “It’s all been done through the proper legal channels.”
Under a 2008 ban on gifts, lawmakers are prohibited from taking any expenditure from a lobbyist or the lobbyist’s clients. The goal of the ban was to stay clear any perception of influence.
According to state ethics rules, private air travel must cost the same as coach fare for the same route.
The Sun-Sentinel reported that DeSantis’ trip would have been a bargain and that Soffer has four lobbyists to lobby the executive branch and the legislature on behalf of his businesses.
Soffer, 51, has been a major donor to Florida Republicans in recent years, and also hosted a private pre-inauguration party for DeSantis and supporters at the Fontainebleau.
The governor said because the funds were provided by the state party, the whole trip was within the law.
According to his public schedule, the governor was in New York City to meet with companies in the banking sector including “commercial banks, investment banks, hedge funds, FinTech and international financial institutions.”
“Being able to go up and meet with some pretty significant movers and shakers who were interested in bringing business to Florida ... people know that taxes are better here than they are in New York,” DeSantis said. “I go up and spread the message that if you want talent, this is a good place to come.”
And as for Soffer?
“I’ve known Jeffrey before this ... it is what it is,” he said.