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Fox News
Fox News
29 Apr 2023

The Florida Commission on Ethics has dismissed a complaint filed by allies of former President Trump who accused Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of coordinating a "shadow presidential campaign." 

Make America Great Again Inc., a pro-Trump PAC, had accused DeSantis of "illegal conduct" in a 15-page complaint filed in March. Taylor Budowich, a former Trump spokesman and now-head of MAGA Inc., had alleged that there was probable cause to investigate whether the governor had broken the law by fundraising through his Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC, having his team interview political operatives in early primary states, going on a "personally lucrative book tour" and taking other steps toward running for president while not officially declaring his candidacy for higher office.

A spokeswoman for DeSantis, who is reportedly preparing to launch a campaign for president in mid-May, had called the complaint "frivolous and politically motivated" and said it was "inappropriate to use state ethics complaints for partisan purposes." 

In a 12-page report obtained by Fox News Digital, the Florida Commission on Ethics dismissed Budowich's filing "for failure to constitute a legally sufficient complaint." 


A pro-Trump super PAC filed an ethics complaint against Florid Gov. Ron DeSantis in March alleging that DeSantis had accepted illegal campaign contributions and is coordinating a "shadow presidential campaign."  (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The commission found that Budowich and MAGA Inc. had repeatedly failed to make specific allegations against DeSantis that would constitute a violation of Florida law. 

For example, Budowich alleged that DeSantis had "solicited and accepted millions of dollars in benefits" with an understanding that these donations would influence his decision to resign as governor of Florida to run for president. But the commission said that MAGA Inc. never alleged that there had been a specific "quid pro quo" that would violate the law. 

"The compliant fails to indicate in a factual, substantive, nonconclusory manner that [DeSantis] solicited or accepted anything with an understanding that it would influence an official decision associated with his public office," the ethics board said. "The complaint details alleged actions taken by other organizations for the benefit of [DeSantis'] anticipated presidential campaign, but never once expressly alleges that [DeSantis] and these organizations have an agreement or understanding, or that [DeSantis] has conditioned any public action on any donation, contribution, gift, or other thing of value." 

MAGA Inc. had also made several allegations that DeSantis had "likely" reaped illegal benefits from his book, "The Courage to Be Free," including a $2 million advance, royalties from book sales and speaking engagements related to his book tour. 


Trump DeSantis

Former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Getty Images)

In regard to the book tour, the commission said that nothing alleged suggested that DeSantis' book advance had been "unearned or is disproportionate to what other similarly-situated public figures could obtain for the same or similar work." 

"With regard to the allegation that [DeSantis] has solicited or accepted gifts associate with the book tour, all of the details of this allegation are presented speculatively," the report states. 

The commission also said that Budowich had failed to describe any "affirmative act or omission" by DeSantis that would constitute an abuse of his public position under the Florida Constitution and trigger an investigation. 

The ethics board brushed off an allegation that DeSantis had misused his position "with corrupt intent to benefit himself" by making "approximately 15 out-of-state campaign trips accompanied by his official security detail, at a reported cost of over $2.4 million to Florida taxpayers." 


Ron DeSantis in Iowa

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to Iowa voters on March 10, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. DeSantis is widely expected to declare his candidacy for president once the Florida legislature ends its current session.  (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

"The complaint does not indicate that the provision of a security detail to [DeSantis] when he is traveling is corrupt. There is a public purpose for the provision of protective services to the Governor and his family, even when he travels," the report states. 

Finally, the commission rejected allegations that DeSantis' contractural relationships for his book tour are "conflicting" because they cause him to be "absent for Florida," citing a lack of "adequate factual basis for this allegation." 

"There is no inherent reason why [DeSantis], as Governor, cannot travel outside the State, and the complaint does not provide additional information to establish that such travel creates a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between his private interests and the performance of his public duties," the commission said. 

The ethics complaint was an escalation of Trump world's pre-emptive attacks against DeSantis, who polls consistently show is the runner-up to Trump in hypothetical 2024 primary contests, even though he is not a declared candidate. It was likely doomed from the start, as five of the nine members of the ethics commission were appointed by DeSantis. 

"It is hardly surprising that another weaponized state entity controlled by DeSantis ignores the facts and the law to protect the Governor," Budowich told Fox News Digital. "There is abundant evidence DeSantis is running an illegal shadow campaign for president and profiting from it at the expense of Florida taxpayers." 

Fox News' Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

Chris Pandolfo is a writer for Fox News Digital. Send tips to and follow him on Twitter @ChrisCPandolfo.

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