The Perfect Enemy | DeSantis uses his millions to help Senate GOP candidates
October 4, 2022

DeSantis uses his millions to help Senate GOP candidates

DeSantis uses his millions to help Senate GOP candidates  POLITICO

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Hello and welcome to Monday.

Here you goFlorida Gov. Ron DeSantis is using his sizable campaign stash to help down-ballot Republicans.

Big checkDeSantis earlier this month shifted $2.5 million from his political committee to the Florida Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm controlled by incoming Senate President Kathleen Passidomo. It’s the single largest contribution recorded by the committee this cycle and since its creation back in 2014. Senate President Wilton Simpson, who is running for agriculture commissioner, donated $2 million from his political committee back in July.

The current situationSenate Republicans right now have a solid 23-16 majority (one likely GOP seat is currently vacant) and they have been on the offense to increase that lead by targeting Democratic incumbents such as Sens. Janet Cruz and Loranne Ausley. Republicans could potentially emerge with a supermajority.

Dems already at disadvantageSenate Democrats were forced to spend money to help defend Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book against a primary challenge and had less than $600,000 in their main campaign account, according to the most recent round of campaign reports (which was in August thanks to a curious quirk of campaign finance law for political parties and affiliated committees run by legislative leaders).

PredictionDemocratic state Sen. Jason Pizzo told Playbook that “I expect ours to grow nicely over the next few weeks, and not from donors who live among aliens.” (That’s a subtle dig at the $10 million that DeSantis got from Robert Bigelow, an entrepreneur who believes aliens are “right under people’s noses.”)

Making his markDeSantis has already had a hand in helping mold the state Senate to his liking, endorsing several Republicans even though Senate GOP leaders had initially planned to support other candidates. The apparent thinking behind DeSantis’ help is that he wants to assist Senate Republicans across the board and not any one candidate. But it’s also yet another reason that DeSantis will likely expect support for his legislative agenda if — as expected — he wins another term.

— WHERE’S RON? — Nothing official announced for Gov. DeSantis.

Have a tip, story, suggestion, birthday, anniversary, new job, or any other nugget for Playbook? Get in touch: [email protected]

TOP TALKER

THE DESANTIS DOCTRINE — “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says Republicans are approaching big business all wrong: ‘Corporatism is the not the same as free enterprise,’” by Insider’s Kimberly Leonard: But on Sunday evening in an hourlong speech before the National Conservatism Conference, DeSantis said Republicans’ approach and thinking about big business needs to change, arguing that his experiences in Florida provide a ‘lesson for people on the right.’ ‘Corporatism is not the same as free enterprise, and I think too many Republicans have viewed limited government to basically mean whatever is best for corporate America is how we want to do the economy,’ DeSantis said during his keynote speech before a crowd of friendly attendees at the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort.”

PRAISEWORTHY BUT…— “Billionaire investor and Trump megadonor Peter Thiel praises Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as ‘the best of the governors’ for offering ‘a real alternative to California,’” by Insider’s Kimberly Leonard: “But [Peter] Thiel also had one major disclaimer, saying that he worried about how expensive housing in Florida had become. Thiel said he bought an $18 million home in Miami in 2020 that was now worth about $35 million. A test for the state’s policies, he said, would be whether housing prices fall. ‘The fact that real estate in Florida or Texas has melted up over the last two or three years is not evidence that you’re succeeding and building a better model than California,’ he said. ‘I’m worried that that’s evidence that you’re becoming like California.’”

CAMPAIGN MODE

BY THE NUMBERS — Here’s the breakdown for the most recently filed fundraising totals in the governor’s race: DeSantis raised more than $2.83 million during the period from Aug. 27 to Sept. 2, while Rep. Charlie Crist raised nearly $1.39 million. The totals include money raised for campaign accounts and for political committees controlled by the candidates.

Following the money — DeSantis’ weekly total includes more than $450,000 in public matching money provided by taxpayers. The governor’s political committee also received $100,000 from the Florida Harbor Pilots Association and $300,000 in four donations from those with connections to private homebuilder GL Homes. Crist’s largest donation during this period was $100,000 that he received from the California Democratic Party. California Gov. Gavin Newsom pledged back in late August that he would send $100,000 to Crist and urged others to make contributions to his campaign as well.

In the bank — DeSantis has more than $122.5 million unspent, according to state reports (which don’t reflect any future planned expenditures), while Crist has more than $4.1 million. The latest campaign reports also show that the DeSantis campaign is beginning to accelerate its spending. His political committee reported during a one-week period that it shifted $6.5 million to the Republican Party of Florida, which has been airing television commercials backing DeSantis and attacking Crist.

FOR YOUR RADAR— “Michael Flynn and Proud Boy join Sarasota GOP executive committee in far right shift,” by Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Zac Anderson: “Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a Proud Boy and other far right individuals were sworn in Thursday as members of the Sarasota GOP’s executive committee, giving them votes in party matters and setting the stage for a possible shift in local GOP leadership toward a more extreme approach. Flynn served in former President Donald Trump’s administration.”

CAMPAIGN ROUNDUP— Charlie Crist has told organizers of three proposed gubernatorial debates that he is willing to participate in all of them, although at this point DeSantis has only publicly committed to one. The one debate that both Crist and DeSantis have agreed to do is being hosted by WPEC, a West Palm Beach television station. “If Ron DeSantis wants to take away more of our freedoms and rights, the least he can do is show up and tell Florida voters and why,” Crist said in a statement announcing his agreement to do three debates. …

… Jay Collins, a former Green Beret running for a state Senate seat in Tampa, is launching a new television ad that introduces Collins to voters. The ad features Collins, who had his leg amputated due to injuries received while on duty, running along Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard. The ad is being paid by the Florida Republican Senatorial Committee.

Crist will join former Rep. Gabby Giffords on Monday in Miami for a bus tour across South Florida to discuss gun violence. Giffords and Crist are scheduled to start their day at a Hispanic restaurant. Crist will later also join Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell for a campaign announcement.

— “The View’s Navarro grills Charlie Crist on previous pro-life stance, running mate: ‘What were you thinking?!” by Fox News’ Gabriel Hays

— “State ethics panel recommends fine for sham candidate in 2020 Miami Senate race,” by Miami Herald’s Ana Ceballos

— “Charlie Crist’s running mate compared Florida under Gov. Ron DeSantis to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’” by Insider’s Kimberly Leonard

— “Challenger accuses Kathy Castor of seeking to defund police,” by Tampa Bay Times’ William March

— “Sarasota’s Bridget Ziegler to train conservatives to run for School Board at Leadership Institute,” by Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Steven Walker

— “Democrats have fundraising lead in two Hillsborough state House contests,” by Tampa Bay Times’ William March

— “Voter registrations show 23 House Districts should be in play,” by Florida Politics’ Scott Powers

— “Controversial new voting law tested Brevard elections officials and voters during primary,” by Florida Today’s Eric Rogers

… DATELINE TALLAHASSEE …

IT’S COME TO THISPanel approves $31M to put National Guard in understaffed prisons, by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon: A legislative budget panel on Friday signed off on $31 million to use the Florida National Guard to help bolster the state’s understaffed prisons, a proposal that received some pushback from those who saw it as dodging larger staffing problems. Florida prisons have long had staffing issues, and some estimates indicate that they are up to 4,000 people short systemwide, a problem lawmakers have grappled with for years. The money greenlit Friday during a meeting of the Legislative Budget Commission, which makes state spending tweaks when the Legislature is not in session, is expected to fund 300 guardsmen.

WORTH WATCHING WHERE THIS GOES — Florida regulators get $1.5M to study alternative to controversial insurance rating firm making ‘politically powerful enemies,’ by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon: The Department of Financial Services that [Chief Financial Officer Jimmy] Patronis oversees on Friday successfully got a legislative budget panel to unanimously approve $1.5 million so they can “explore alternative methods” for property insurance companies to get financial stability ratings. The request from his office said “Demotech’s business practices appear to have caused confusion and concern for Floridians regarding the insurance market.”

RebuttalState Sen. Jeff Brandes on Friday said the decision by the Legislative Budget Commission, which is made up of lawmakers who make tweaks to state spending in between budget cycles, amounted to a waste of money. “The simple truth is, blaming your rating agency is like blaming the umpire in baseball,” he said. “They aren’t perfect and you can yell all you want, but you don’t have a game if they don’t show up.”

— “State lawmakers approve $175M in federal dollars on local projects,” by Florida Politics’ Renzo Downey

TRUMPLANDIA AND THE SWAMP

WHAT CHRIS KISE IS READING — “For Trump’s lawyers, legal exposure comes with the job,” by The New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt and Luke Broadwater: “A dark joke has begun circulating among lawyers following the many legal travails of former President Donald J. Trump: MAGA actually stands for ‘making attorneys get attorneys.’ Over six years and nine major investigations by Congress, the Justice Department and local prosecutors, as Mr. Trump has managed to avoid removal from the presidency and indictment, it has become clear that serving as one of his lawyers is a remarkably risky job — and one that can involve considerable legal exposure.”

MEANWHILE— “Judge dismisses Trump’s lawsuit against Clinton and others as ‘political manifesto,’” by NBC News’ Dareh Gregorian: “A federal judge in Florida has dismissed former President Donald Trump’s sprawling racketeering lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and other perceived political enemies such as former FBI Director James Comey and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., blasting it as a 200-page ‘political manifesto outlining his grievances against those that have opposed him.’ What the suit ‘lacks in substance and legal support it seeks to substitute with length, hyperbole, and the settling of scores and grievances,’ Judge Donald Middlebrooks said in a scathing 65-page ruling released Thursday night.”

WARNING SIGNS — “Donald Trump’s social media company facing mountainous task to survive,” by Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Chris Anderson: “How [Trump Media & Technology Group] is staying afloat financially is not clear, especially since advertising only started appearing on Truth Social recently, and [Devin] Nunes – the former California congressman and company CEO – is being paid $750,000 per year. A regulatory filing stated the company has received at least $25 million in short-term loans and can survive until April. A web hosting service named RightForge has claimed it is owed $1.6 million by Trump’s company, and there are other problems as well.”

Trump, DOJ tangle over ‘special master’ to review seized Mar-a-Lago documents, by POLITICO’s Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein:

— “Justice Department leans in on Trump and the empty folders,” by Washington Post’s Aaron Blake

CORONAVIRUS UPDATES

SHOWING UP — “‘Centaurus’ COVID subvariant seeps into Florida while sister mutation spreads in Southeast,” by Palm Beach Post’s Chris Persaud: “Florida’s official coronavirus case counts continued to fall for the sixth straight week, but some of its biggest urban areas report signs of another uptick of infections as more viral mutations enter the state. Viral loads are once again rising in the Miami, Orlando and Tampa Bay areas. And recent COVID-19 tests reveal that another potentially contagious subvariant, BA.2.75, nicknamed “centaurus,” has been in Florida since at least mid-August. Plus, the BA.4.6 subvariant continues to gain ground across the southeastern United States.”

IN MEMORIAM

‘REMEMBER THE LIVES WE LOST’ — “Governor Ron DeSantis commemorates 9/11 in Palm Harbor at Florida’s largest permanent memorial,” by Fox 13’s Justin Matthews: “Memorial ceremonies took place across the Bay Area on Sunday to honor the lives lost on September 11, 2001. About 2,000 people, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, packed the Curlew Hills Memory Gardens in somber solidarity. ‘They say never forget, but memories fade and as time passes, it’s easy to get lost in all these other things that we have going on in our daily lives. So, I think it’s really important that we’re taking time here, 21 years after one of the worst attacks this country has ever faced, to remember, to remember the lives that we lost, almost 3,000,’ DeSantis stated.”

PENINSULA AND BEYOND

RANKINGS GALOREThe fall ritual that comes with the release of U.S. News and World Report rankings occurs on Monday. For both the University of Florida and Florida State University it’s mostly status quo. The Gainesville Sun reports UF has remained tied for 5th among public universities although it dropped one spot in the overall rankings at 29th while FSU has retained its spot at 19th among public universities and 55th overall. The Tampa Bay Times reports that both the University of South Florida and University of Central Florida climbed in the latest rankings. USF rose four spots to 42nd among public universities while UCF moved up to 64th in public schools. Florida politicians have continually heralded the rankings — which some critics have questioned — as state schools have climbed higher in them.

THE COST — “As Florida’s top universities rise, many low-income students are left out,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Ian Hodgson and Divya Kumar: “The surge has helped make Florida the No. 1 state for higher education, according to U.S. News, based on graduation rates, lower tuition and other factors. But prestige comes at a cost. The higher these schools strive, the less accessible they’ve become. The percentage of students from low-income families at Florida’s three ‘preeminent’ public universities is shrinking, according to state and federal data that tracks ‘access rates.’ Experts say the state’s push for performance and its keen focus on metrics may be to blame.”

ADD IT UP— “Ousted School Board members battled to keep grand jury details secret, and it’s costing taxpayers,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Scott Travis: “Two former Broward School Board members have spent $120,000 in taxpayer dollars for legal fees to try to quash a statewide grand jury report that called for their removal from office. Ann Murray and Donna Korn were unsuccessful in their goal of keeping details secret from the scathing grand jury report and finishing out their terms. Gov. Ron DeSantis agreed with the grand jury’s recommendation and suspended them, along with board members Patti Good and Laurie Rich Levinson.”

— “Testimony: School shooter’s home ruled by chaos,” by The Associated Press’ Terry Spencer

— “Central Florida toll board matches DeSantis’ discounts but see trouble down the road,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Kevin Spear

— “Dan Markel murder: Held in solitary confinement since April, Charlie Adelson denied bond,” by Tallahassee Democrat’s Karl Etters

— “SpaceX now targeting Tuesday for next Falcon 9 Starlink Mission liftoff,” by Florida Today’s Jamie Groh

— “How Orlando guardian’s scandal shaped new oversight process for DNRs,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Monivette Cordeiro

— “Hydrogen is NASA’s fuel of choice for Artemis I, but it’s also hard to manage,” by Florida Today’s Emre Kelly

ODDS, ENDS AND FLORIDA MEN

— “For Florida A&M University, getting off the field is just one of many problems,” by The New York Times’ Billy Witz: “Here’s what comes with being a football player at Florida A&M: getting booted from the dorms during training camp and sleeping in your car. Bad or uncertain advice from an overwhelmed staff about what classes to sign up for. Monthslong waits for the scholarship check that covers your meals and rent. And, in an especially dismissive twist, finding that the complimentary ticket allotment was slashed to two from four.”

BIRTHDAYS: Eytan Laor, founder and chairman of American Principles … Jack Dolan with the Los Angeles Times … Evan Benn, director of special projects and editorial events at The Philadelphia Inquirer