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PolitiFact Florida: Fact-checking Gillum's claim about DeSantis' $145,000 travel receipts

Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis gestures as he debates Democrat Andrew Gillum, Wednesday at Broward College in Davie. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, Pool)
Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis gestures as he debates Democrat Andrew Gillum, Wednesday at Broward College in Davie. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, Pool)
Published Oct. 25, 2018

Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis asked each other for receipts during a Florida gubernatorial debate: DeSantis asked who paid for Gillum's ticket to a Hamilton show, and Gillum called out DeSantis for travel paid by taxpayers.

"I would ask him, what happened to the $145,000 in receipts of public taxpayer money that he has yet to reveal?" Gillum asked during Wednesday's debate.

Here are the facts: DeSantis hasn't released detailed receipts on $145,000 spent on travels, but he broadly reported the travel charges.

Gillum's campaign linked his claim to an Oct. 18 Naples Daily News article headlined, "Candidate DeSantis won't disclose details of taxpayer-funded travel while in Congress."

The story says DeSantis spent more than $145,000 in taxpayer money for travel as a congressman, including at least two trips to New York City to appear on Fox News. DeSantis was sworn into Congress in January 2013 and resigned in September to focus on his gubernatorial campaign.

The story did not say DeSantis traveled to New York City to talk about his campaign — the known trips happened before he officially announced his candidacy in January, although he had been expected to enter the race for months and President Donald Trump in December 2017 tweeted that DeSantis "would make a great governor of Florida." The story also doesn't say that his spending broke House rules or laws.

The crux of the story is that DeSantis hasn't disclosed detailed travel receipts and that lack of information leads to uncertainty over how he spent taxpayer money.

"Without receipts, it remains unclear how many trips DeSantis took at taxpayer expense to make media appearances. It's also difficult without those records to know how often he traveled at taxpayer expense to locations other than his Florida district or Washington office," the Naples Daily News story said.

The money at issue comes from the Members' Representational Allowance, an annual allowance members of Congress get to support their official and representational duties. The amount appropriated can vary per year. During his time in office, DeSantis' allowance was more than $1 million but not more than $1.4 million.

Authorized spending includes personnel salaries and benefits, travel and office expenses.

The funds cannot be used to pay for expenses "related to activities or events that are primarily social in nature, personal expenses, campaign or political expenses, or House committee expenses," and members may be held personally liable for misspent funds or excess spending, said a September 2017 Congressional Research Service report.

House members' spending is published in a quarterly public report called Statements of Disbursements. The Naples Daily News analyzed reports submitted by DeSantis and found more than $1,000 spent on seven hotel stays since 2013, and 71 commercial transportation expenses totaling about $143,000.

DeSantis did not provide to the news outlet the details on where and how long he stayed in the hotels; nor receipts on the commercial transportation that would detail where, when, why or with whom he traveled, how many trips were by plane or train, and whether he traveled first-class or coach.

DeSantis' campaign did not respond to multiple PolitiFact queries.

The Naples Daily News identified travel expenses listed in DeSantis' spending reports that matched the dates of at least two appearances on Fox News TV and radio shows, in July and October 2017. DeSantis discussed issues of the day, including Trump's policies.

DeSantis' appearances on Fox News and Fox Business propelled him into the national spotlight and helped him win Trump's endorsement. "The once little-known congressman spent so much time broadcasting Fox News TV hits from Washington this year that he learned to apply his own powder so he could look as polished as he sounded," Politico reported.

Stephen Lawson, DeSantis' campaign spokesman, told the Naples Daily News that the trips to New York were "official office travel that included official media appearances."

If a member of Congress is invited in his or her official capacity to do an interview with any media organization, then use of the Members' Representational Allowance would be considered permissible if that was the member's primary purpose for travel, said Courtney Parella, spokeswoman for the Committee on House Administration.

DeSantis could voluntarily release records detailing his travels, but without itemized receipts there isn't a way of knowing exactly how he spent taxpayers' money, said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs at the government watchdog group Public Citizen.

The level of transparency as it relates to the release of detailed receipts varies among lawmakers, and they are not legally required to provide itemized receipts to the public, Gilbert said.

Gillum's statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details. We rate it Half True.

Read more rulings at PolitiFact.com/florida.

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