TALLAHASSEE — A Florida ethics board has dismissed a complaint that allies of former President Donald Trump filed against Republican rival Gov. Ron DeSantis, finding no legal basis for allegations that the governor violated campaign finance laws with a “shadow” run for the White House.
The Florida Commission on Ethics rejected the complaint in an order filed last week.
The Trump-supporting super PAC MAGA Inc. filed the complaint against DeSantis in March and asked the commission to investigate the governor for allegedly leveraging his office to enrich his national profile.
The ethics panel, which is appointed by DeSantis and the leaders of the state House and Senate, who are both allies of the governor, found no legal basis for the complaint’s allegations.
“There is no inherent reason why respondent, as governor, cannot travel outside the state, and the complaint does not provide additional information to establish that such travel creates a continuing or frequently occurring conflict between his private interests and the performance of his public duties or that it impedes the full and faithful discharge of his public duties,” reads the order from ethics commission chairperson Glen Gilzean.
Taylor Budowich, the CEO of MAGA Inc., disagreed with the commission’s ruling, saying there is “abundant evidence DeSantis is running an illegal shadow campaign for president.”
“It is hardly surprising that another weaponized state entity controlled by DeSantis ignores the facts and the law to protect the governor,” he said.
The complaint came as the former president had begun to accelerate criticism of DeSantis, who is widely seen as Trump’s most serious challenger for the 2024 GOP nomination. DeSantis has largely avoided firing back at Trump, while the former president peppers the governor with nicknames and takes shots at DeSantis’ policy positions.
Trump himself faced similar criticism before announcing his own candidacy in November, accused of violating federal campaign laws by raising and spending money for a run ahead of a formal 2024 campaign launch. He was never reprimanded or fined as a result.
While DeSantis has not yet formally announced a 2024 campaign, he is expected to do so after Florida’s legislative session ends in May. In the meantime, he has traveled to early-voting states to promote his new book and has met with donors, and just returned from an overseas trade mission.
DeSantis’ communications team had said the complaint was a politically motivated attack when it was filed but did not immediately return an emailed request for comment on Monday.
Ethics complaints are often used by campaigns to raise questions about opponents by making complaints public, although many are resolved or dismissed without the commission finding violations.
By ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE Associated Press
Associated Press reporter Michelle L. Price in New York contributed to this report.