March 31, 2023

Former President Donald Trump’s allies are escalating their attacks on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who is expected to announce a 2024 presidential bid soon becoming possibly the biggest roadblock in Trump’s third run for office.

Trump Super PAC Make America Great Again Inc. filed a 15-page complaint on Wednesday with the Florida Commission on Ethics, accusing DeSantis of violating state ethics and election laws with his “shadow presidential campaign,” according to a MAGA Inc. spokesperson.

A draft of the complaint — which was first obtained by NBC News — asks the commission to investigate whether pro-DeSantis super PACs, his “personally lucrative book tour” and a continued wave of state-level campaign contributions “are unlawful because they serve his personal political objectives, are in furtherance of his personal financial gain at the expense of Florida taxpayers, and are intended to influence his official decision to resign from office.”

“Adding this to the list of frivolous and politically motivated attacks — it’s inappropriate to use state ethics for partisan purposes,” DeSantis’ office told NBC News’ Matt Dixon.

The relationship between the former president and the Florida governor has been getting more strained by the day since Trump announced a third run for office in November.

But the complaint marks an escalation on Trump’s part and will be the first legal fight between the two on the road to the 2024 primaries.

DeSantis has not yet formally announced a bid for the White House but the complaint argues he has made a lot of moves that look like someone  considering a presidential bid — the governor has made stops in early primary states, he’s written a book and launched a book tour, he’s raised tens of millions of dollars to go into a state-level committee that could be transferred to a federal super PAC and allies of the governor have formed and solicited dollar donations for a federal draft PAC.

The pro-Trump group claims those steps all together violate a handful of Florida laws around officeholders’ accepting illegal gifts.

“This letter provides ample evidence to support a finding of probable cause by the Florida Commission on Ethics that Governor DeSantis, in concert with certain associated political committees, political consultants and a 501(c)(4) organization, has solicited and received millions of dollars’ worth of illegal gifts in violation of Florida State ethics laws and the Florida Constitution,” the draft complaint reads. 

Their argument is based on Florida’s resign-to-run law, which requires politicians running for a new office to resign if the terms of the two offices will overlap. DeSantis’ Republican allies in the Florida state legislature have publicly flirted with changing the law to give DeSantis room to run for president and remain governor.  

DeSantis was re-elected last year to another four-year term so Trump allies argue that any gifts or money accepted to influence his decision to resign from the governor’s office to run for president are in violation of state law that prevents officeholders from accepting gifts designed to sway an “official action,” according to the draft complaint.

But the road ahead in this legal battle might not be so smooth.

Trump’s allies might have some difficulty getting the commission to investigate DeSantis as he personally appointed five of the nine members sitting on the panel. 

Read the complaint here:

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