It’s been more than a month since Gov. Ron DeSantis and nearly 100 other elected officials, business executives, top-tier lobbyists and academics returned from their trade mission to Israel, yet information about the trip’s financing is still highly limited.
DeSantis has been staunchly pro-Israel since his time in Congress, which has earned him the backing of high profile pro-Israel campaign donors from across the country who served as an early support network for his rise to governor.
He had promised that this trip would be a historic opportunity to drum up international investments in Florida businesses, and many agreements were signed between Florida universities and companies and Israeli counterparts. But international trips are also far from public view, and members of the media unsuccessfully sued the Florida Cabinet for holding a meeting in Jerusalem, half a globe away from their constituents.
As the facts slowly emerge, here are five things we know so far about how that trip was paid for, and how much it’s expected to cost you:
- Taxpayers are on the hook for nearly $30,000, but that’s just an early estimate. That figure represents travel costs for Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried, her staff and security, as well as one staff member each in the attorney general’s office and the chief financial officer’s office, according to records released to the Times/Herald. Fried traveled ahead of the rest of the Florida Cabinet to hold her own meetings, and that portion of her trip was covered by taxpayer money, according to her spokesman, Franco Ripple.
- What about DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis? Their offices have said they used private funding provided through Enterprise Florida, the state’s business development arm that collects dues of $50,000 apiece from its corporate board members and also generates corporate sponsorships. Some of Fried’s hotel stays and other expenses were also covered by Enterprise Florida once she joined the rest of the group, her office said. The governor’s office has not yet released records related to the travel of their four staff members who attended the trip.
- Members of the delegation stayed in a Hilton in Tel Aviv and the luxury David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, which both cost around $400 per night. Kathleen Keenan, a spokeswoman for Enterprise Florida, told the News Service of Florida that they chose the group’s hotels based on security and the capacity to allow about 90 rooms to all be blocked off.
- As for the two state senators, Sens. Lauren Book of Plantation and Wilton Simpson of Trilby, who traveled with the group to Israel, they paid their own way, according to Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta.
- There are still unanswered questions. For one, we still don’t know how the four Florida House members paid for their trip. The House has not yet released records associated with their expenses. At least one state representative, Rep. Joe Geller of Aventura, said he was using funds from the Legislature’s travel budget, which comes from taxpayers. Enterprise Florida has said that it takes 45 to 60 days to estimate the total cost of a trip. As of Friday, we’re at Day 35.
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