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DeSantis Accused of Unethical Conduct by MAGA Inc., Faces Tough Road to Action from State Ethics Commission

Donald J. Trump, former President of the United States, has accused Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida of running a shadow presidential campaign while insisting that he has violated state law. MAGA Inc., a super PAC supporting Trump, has filed a complaint with Florida officials, alleging that DeSantis, who is viewed as Trump’s chief potential rival for the Republican Party’s 2024 nomination, should be considered a presidential candidate. The super PAC cited that DeSantis has taken meetings with donors, raised money for a political committee, toured the country to sell books, and reached out to potential campaign aides.

MAGA Inc.’s complaint stated that “Governor DeSantis’s failure to declare his candidacy is no mere oversight. It is a coordinated effort specifically designed for him to accept, as unethical gifts, illegal campaign contributions and certain personal benefits.” The pro-Trump super PAC is requesting the Florida Commission on Ethics to impose severe penalties under Florida ethics law, including impeachment, removal from office, public censure, and ballot disqualification. The governor’s office dismissed the allegations as “frivolous and politically motivated attacks,” and stated that it’s inappropriate to use state ethics complaints for partisan purposes.

While DeSantis hasn’t formally declared a White House bid, he has been promoting a book on a nationwide tour, which could double as the outline of a 2024 campaign platform. He has also laid out foreign policy positions this week on Fox News. The allegations from MAGA Inc. against DeSantis mirror a similar complaint filed against Trump in March 2020 by a Democratic super PAC. In that complaint, the group argued that Trump had been behaving like a 2024 presidential candidate while avoiding federal oversight by not filing a statement of candidacy.

The F.E.C. did not take action against Trump, who eventually announced a formal presidential campaign four months later. DeSantis has appointed five of the nine members of the state ethics commission, and thus, Trump’s allies may face a tough road in persuading the commission to act. Trump and DeSantis were once political allies, but have grown increasingly antagonistic toward each other. While DeSantis has made thinly veiled contrasts with Trump, the latter has grown increasingly aggressive in his attacks on the governor. At a recent event in Iowa, Trump attacked DeSantis over attempts to cut ethanol production and accused him of wanting to “decimate” Social Security and Medicare by supporting proposals that would have increased the age to receive benefits.

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