Taxpayers paid millions more for DeSantis security, travel amid presidential race

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a campaign event or a vacation on the beach, for protective ops we cover him 24-7,” an FDLE spokesperson said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waves as he arrives to sign the state budget on Thursday, June 2, 2022, at The Villages.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waves as he arrives to sign the state budget on Thursday, June 2, 2022, at The Villages. [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL | AP ]
Published Aug. 16|Updated Aug. 16

TALLAHASSEE — Florida taxpayers have spent more than $13 million on travel and protective security for Gov. Ron DeSantis in the two years he has prepared and run a campaign to become the 2024 Republican presidential nominee, according to state records released this week.

While some of that money covers the governor’s routine security and travel for his state job, the totals for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 budget years are significantly higher than the state spent his first two years in office — and it is substantially more than what several other states report their sitting governors spent while running for president in previous election cycles.

Florida allows taxpayers to pick up all the costs for travel and security for its governors, even when they are engaged in political campaigning or personal travel. In just over four years in office, the total cost of travel and security detail for the governor and his family is more than $22 million.

“Protective operations salaries are covered under the FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) budget,” said Gretl Plessinger, spokesperson for the agency that handles the governor’s security and travel in an interview in June. “For us, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a campaign event or a vacation on the beach, for protective ops we cover him 24-7.”

In the 2022-23 budget year that ended June 30, the state spent more than $3 million on DeSantis’ travel and more than $5 million on his protective security detail, according to the agency’s Report on Transportation and Protective Services. That was a 69% increase over the expenses paid in 2021-22, when the state spent $4.7 million for the governor’s travel and security detail as he traveled the state seeking re-election.

FDLE added agents to security detail

DeSantis has spent much of the last two years traveling the country promoting his political memoir and raising money for his campaigns. Some of the additional cost can be attributed to the need for additional Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents on the governor’s security detail, said Alex Lanfranconi, the governor’s deputy press secretary.

“His record as the most effective conservative governor in American history has also earned him an elevated threat profile, and FDLE has increased the number of protective agents to ensure the governor and his family remain safe,” Lanfranconi said.

In his first two years on the job, the cost of DeSantis’ travel and security averaged about $3.75 million, but, since the end of the pandemic and start of the governor’s national political pursuits, those numbers have increased significantly. In the 2021-22 fiscal it was $4.76 million and in ‘22-23 is $8 million.

Although DeSantis’ campaign and his political committee have raised record sums for a sitting governor — holding its latest fundraising telethon in Tampa on Wednesday — none of the more than $100 million raised has gone to reimbursing Florida taxpayers, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

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Democrats quickly criticized the spending and noted the governor’s sagging performance in the polls in the early Republican primary states, where he is trailing former President Donald Trump by double digits.

“Now, as the governor continues to flame out in his failing run for president, it is Floridians who are continuing to subsidize his trips to Iowa and New Hampshire while they struggle to pay the bills in the most unaffordable state in the nation,” said Anders Croy, communications director for DeSantis Watch.

DeSantis’ family is part of the expense picture

The taxpayers also pay for travel and protective services for Casey DeSantis and the governor’s three young children. According to the report, the cost of those services also rose slightly last year, to a total of $792,000, as the governor has increasingly brought his family with him to campaign events. In the 2021-22 election year, the state spent $777,000 on travel and protection for the governor’s family.

Taxpayers historically pick up the tab for the security and travel of sitting governors with presidential ambitions.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington cost taxpayers an estimated $660,000 for his failed presidential bid in 2019. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, refused to release the details of his campaign-related travel and security in his presidential campaign in 2016, but rivals estimated it was at least $350,000. In 2011, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, spent an estimated $1 million of taxpayer money on transportation and security as he sought the GOP presidential nomination.

There are few examples of governors using their campaigns to reimburse state coffers. In 2015, then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced his campaign would reimburse taxpayers an estimated $125,000 for airfare, hotel and meals for his security team for campaign travel, but not for salaries and fringe benefits. The Republican’s campaign lasted just 71 days before Walker abandoned it in September 2015, after his polling numbers tanked and his campaign financing dried up.

DeSantis, who announced his campaign in late May, has had his own challenging summer.

Once positioned as the chief rival to Trump, he has watched as his commanding lead over other GOP rivals has shriveled and his fundraising has slowed. In the last month, as his campaign faced financial strains, DeSantis’ campaign laid off more than a third of its staff, named a new campaign manager and attempted to reset his campaign narrative.

The reboot, however, has not reduced his travel footprint. In the last two weeks, the governor has made numerous trips from Florida to Iowa and New Hampshire, the two early GOP primary states for the presidential nomination.

Miami Herald reporter Ana Claudia Chacin contributed to this report.