Reclusive GOP donor and Marvel chairman renting DeSantis his private plane

It's not unusual for donors to lend their planes to candidates, but this donor has the national spotlight.
Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter, seen here in 2017 at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. [YouTube]
Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter, seen here in 2017 at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. [YouTube]
Published Sept. 26, 2018|Updated Sept. 26, 2018

He's never granted an interview. He's rarely been photographed. He has the president's ear.

And, according to campaign finance reports and state business filings, it appears he is loaning a private plane to Ron DeSantis as he campaigns across the state.

Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter, the chairman of Marvel Entertainment, and his wife, Laura, are fiercely backing Ron DeSantis for governor, though they are doing so on their own terms: quietly and with a boost from their vast fortune.

The couple owns a condo in Palm Beach, which, according to property appraiser records, is less than three miles away from Mar-a-Lago, the "winter White House" for President Donald Trump. Perlmutter has been spotted there on many occasions, and according to ProPublica, is a member of the "Mar-a-Lago crowd," a trio that includes Palm Beach doctor Bruce Moskowitz and lawyer Marc Sherman. Together, they serve as the shadow bosses of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, who ran an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for governor this year, similarly lives "two doors down" from Mar-a-Lago, of which he is also a member.

In an interview with the Times/Herald, Greene said he's only met Perlmutter once, when they were both at the ritzy Palm Beach golf club.

Who introduced them? Trump, of course, who Greene said was dining with Perlmutter at the time.

Greene noted that the Perlmutters are known "mega-donors" to Republicans nationwide, and said their interest in DeSantis likely stems from his ideology as well as the fact they own property in Florida, and thus have a vested interest in the state's future elected leader.

"I just assumed that … Donald Trump said, 'Congrats, Ron. How much do you need?'" Greene said of DeSantis after his primary victory. "He has his team around the country to give whatever money DeSantis needs."

Campaign finance reports from DeSantis' campaign show that he expensed $25,555.80 to TOT Funding Corporation August 27, for "transportation." That company's director is listed as Perlmutter in the state business filings database, and is also listed as an owner of a Cessna jet in the Federal Aviation Administration registry.

For candidates who, unlike Gov. Rick Scott, aren't wealthy enough to own a plane, it's not uncommon for them to rent planes, even from donors.

But to follow the law, the candidate must pay a comparable rate for each passenger on the flight which is equal to the lowest price of a commercial flight to the same destination on the same day.

Both Governors Charlie Crist and Rick Scott have faced questions over their use of planes in the past, with Crist having to answer to an ethics investigation over his use of Donald Trump's plane in the past.

FROM THE ARCHIVESThe plane truth: Florida Gov. Rick Scott travels in wealth, stealth

The DeSantis campaign did not respond to requests for information about how the use of Perlmutter's plane was priced.

In addition to loaning their plane, the Perlmutters have also donated $2 million to DeSantis, making them one of his largest donors.

While the Federal Election Commission shows no federal donations from either Isaac nor Laura Perlmutter before 2015, after that year they quickly achieved the "mega-donor" status by writing checks to everything from the Wyoming Republican Party to Trump's campaign. They spent millions to help get Trump elected.

In Florida, they've donated a considerable amount to U.S. Rep. Brian Mast this cycle. Their hefty support of DeSantis is the first time they've contributed to a state election in Florida, according to the state's campaign finance records. Their donations to DeSantis have always been under Laura's name.

Ike, for his part, reportedly takes pride in never having granted a reporter an interview in his life. Before he ran Marvel, a company purchased by Disney in 2009 for $4 billion, he grew up in Israel and fought in that country's military. He's a veteran of the Six-Day War in 1967 between Israel and adjacent states Egypt, Jordan and Syria, according to Forbes

That fact could serve as a hint for why he is backing DeSantis, who is an ardent supporter of Israel and a magnet for pro-Israel donors like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Susan MacManus, who recently retired after a long tenure as a political science professor at the University of South Florida, said DeSantis' use of Perlmutter's plane is yet another example of how Florida's race for governor is being closely watched by voters, journalists and donors from across the country.

"This is a nationalized race," she said. "The governor plays a part ultimately in what party can win seats in Congress nationally and having a governor of your party always helps in the presidential election … So national money is pouring into Florida — it's gushing."

In addition to Perlmutter, campaign finance records also indicate the campaign is using a plane from another donor, Ronald Howse, who is a retired civil engineer in Cocoa, near Titusville.

In addition to several thousand dollars, Howse gave DeSantis an "in-kind" donation, meaning a donation of something other than cash, of "transportation" worth $1,703.70 in late August, according to campaign finance reports. Then, on Sept. 7, the campaign paid Howse's registered company $2,555.55 for transportation costs.

Howse's company is also registered as an owner of a Pilatus PC-12 private plane in the federal registry. He said in an interview with the Times/Herald that he supported DeSantis' U.S. Senate run in the past and is a big fan of his politics.

"I gave money and then I asked, 'What else can I help the campaign with?' They said, 'Do you have access to a plane?'" Howse said. He has partial ownership of the plane as part of a timeshare-like service and donated hours of flight.

"A lot of people with airplanes they choose to fly to with the candidate to have some face time with the candidate," Howse added. "I don't choose to do that because he has my support and I'd rather him be doing his job than listening to me."

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.