Ethics panel tosses FDP complaint against Gov. DeSantis staff, cites ‘insufficient evidence’

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FDP Chair Nikki Fried said she is ‘disappointed, but not surprised,’ by the dismissal.

Citing “insufficient evidence,” the Florida Commission on Ethics has dismissed a complaint accusing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staff of improperly soliciting political support.

The complaint, filed in June by Florida Democratic Party (FDP) Chair Nikki Fried, said three DeSantis administration officials led an effort to pressure lobbyists and lawmakers to endorse and contribute funds to the Governor’s presidential bid.

Enlisting state employees rather than members of one’s political team to ask for vocal and monetary backing, even if done in their personal time, is in general ethically questionable and potentially illegal, depending on whether any tax-funded resources were used in the solicitation.

The activity described in Fried’s complaint would be even more troublesome, since it would have occurred while the Governor still had power to veto bills and budget appropriations from the 2023 Legislative Session.

Fried’s complaint named the Governor’s Chief of Staff James Uthmeier, Legislative Affairs Director Stephanie Koelousos and Director of Policy and Budget Chris Spencer as the principal wrongdoers.

“Any reasonable person could infer from the reporting that our Governor was holding the state budget hostage in exchange for political endorsements and donations — actions that are both unethical and illegal,” Fried said in a statement at the time.

To support her claims, Fried cited late May reports by NBC News and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that included quotes from lawmakers, lobbyists and consultants — none of whom agreed to go on the record — decrying what they viewed as improper soliciting by state DeSantis staff.

The only lawmaker who did go on record for either report, Palm Bay Republican Rep. Randy Fine, told the Herald-Tribune those accusations were “garbage.” He said no one in the Governor’s Office had asked him for an endorsement and that none of his colleagues in the Legislature mentioned being asked for financial or political support either.

Neither report mentioned Uthmeier.

Fried said she is “disappointed, but not surprised,” by the Commission on Ethics’ decision to toss her complaint. The FDP was the first to announce the dismissal late Wednesday afternoon.

“Even the appearance of impropriety by government officials is enough to warrant questions about their conduct,” she said, “but in both cases, the Commission’s Advocate cited ‘insufficient evidence’ to pursue the complaints.”

She said DeSantis is “well known” for retaliating against political enemies like Sarasota Sen. Joe Gruters, whose local appropriations the Governor vetoed after Gruters endorsed Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. Fried also pointed to the firing last week of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement Chief of Staff just days after she filed whistleblower protections.

“Ron’s actions have a chilling effect on dissent,” she said, “and the Commission’s inability to find anyone willing to speak on the record at the risk of their political careers isn’t the same thing as exoneration.”

The nine-member Florida Commission on Ethics is composed of five appointments by the Governor, with no more than three from the same political party. The remaining four members are appointed by the Senate President and House Speaker.

Most recently, DeSantis named two new members to the Commission. One was no-party lawyer and U.S. Marine Corps Reserve veteran Luis Fuste. The other was Republican Tina Descovich, a co-founder of Moms for Liberty.

Other members include Republican lawyer Ashley Lukis (Chair), Democratic lawyer Michelle Anchors (Vice Chair), Republican former State Attorney William Cerone, Democratic tech entrepreneur Freddie Figgers, Republican lawyer Laird Lile, Republican education executive Ed Moore and former Democratic state Rep. Wengay Newton.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Dont Say FLA

    December 14, 2023 at 3:40 pm

    Rhonda is as Rhonda does, and Rhonda does a stupid, bad job.

    How would Rhonda fare as President up in D.C. where’s there’s Democrat that can’t just be steamrolled by a super majority GOP?

    Rhonda would fail. Utterly fail. That’s why they’ll never be President. Total lack of executive experience. Total lack of a personality too.

    Rhonda’s a bottom, and the bottom is where they belong.

Comments are closed.


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