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DeSantis hops into crypto donations fray

Kimberly Leonard's must-read briefing on what's hot, crazy or shady about politics in the Sunshine State
Aug 25, 2023 View in browser

By Kimberly Leonard

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron Desantis greets local residents during a meet and greet at the Hotel Charitone, Thursday, July 27, 2023, in Chariton, Iowa. | Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

Good morning and happy Friday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is preparing to accept campaign donations in cryptocurrency.

It’s all expected to start at a cocktail-hour fundraiser next week in Miami, a city 2024 GOP presidential campaign rival Mayor Francis Suarez has tried to turn into the “crypto capital.”

What they're saying: Organizers declined to share the fundraiser’s precise date and location, but Robert Salvador, CEO of software construction company DigiBuild and one of the event’s hosts, said in an interview that DeSantis is expected to field questions about the economy, artificial intelligence and crypto.

“We’re going to lean into the tech community and get into the Miami-Dade crowd,” said Salvador, who moved his business from Chicago to Miami during the pandemic. “The campaign really understands that tech is driving a lot of the growth in Southern Florida,” he added.

Salvador is co-hosting the fundraiser with Gary Rabine, chairman of paving company Rabine Group and former GOP candidate for Illinois governor; Richard Ring, CEO of F3 Missing Children's Intelligence Agency; and John Montague, a Florida-based business and securities attorney who specializes in crypto.

Jumping in: Other 2024 presidential candidates are already accepting crypto donations, including Democrat Robert F. Kennedy Jr., entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Suarez (who takes his mayoral salary in Bitcoin).

Candidates’ decision to accept crypto donations involves navigating a complicated web of 2014 federal campaign finance guidance. Plus, the FEC doesn’t allow campaigns to use cryptocurrencies to pay for the costs of running for president. Instead, the operations have to exchange Bitcoin, Ethereum and other digital assets for dollars at a later date — similar to how they’re supposed to handle stock gifts. That’ll mean incurring processing fees and paperwork.

Potential changes to crypto rules are ahead, and lobbying on the issue exploded last year, the money-in-politics research organization Open Secrets found. Federal regulators and Congress have considered clamping down in part because of the collapse of crypto broker Voyager Digital and crypto lending company Celsius Network, as well as that of the crypto exchange FTX, whose CEO Sam Bankman-Fried faced federal charges and was a prolific Democratic donor.

DeSantis accepting digital asset donations isn’t just about growing his campaign coffers. It’s a political and a policy statement. The governor last month accused President Joe Biden of waging a “war on Bitcoin'' following a crackdown by the independent Securities and Exchange Commission against crypto exchanges Coinbase and Binance.

“The only reason people in Washington don’t like it is because they don’t control it,” DeSantis said of Bitcoin in May during a conversation with Elon Musk, the CEO of X, formerly known as Twitter, when he launched his presidential campaign following technical difficulties.

What the governor has done: DeSantis has promised to allow people to invest in crypto if elected president and opposes establishing a central bank digital currency, which would be a digital form of the U.S. dollar. Though one hasn’t been issued in the U.S., DeSantis signed a bipartisan bill into law in Florida to ban them in what he cast as a preemptive move, warning that the federal government could someday use it to surveil how Americans spend.

Biden hasn't taken a position on the matter but in March 2022 asked federal agencies to examine its risks and benefits, and to study crypto oversight. Over on Capitol Hill, key committees in the GOP-majority House advanced a crypto regulatory bill over which Democrats were split.

— WHERE'S RON? Gov. DeSantis is doing a bus tour in Iowa today and tomorrow with the super PAC supporting him, Never Back Down.

Programming note: Florida Playbook will not be publishing from Aug. 28 through Sept. 4. We’ll be back to our normal schedule on Tuesday, Sept. 5.


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A storm is moving northward toward Florida. | Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo

STORM WATCH — DeSantis alerted the public on X that he’d directed Kevin Guthrie, who leads Florida’s emergency management, to prepare for a potential tropical system that's moving across the Yucatán Peninsula and toward Florida. “Residents should remain vigilant and prepare for possible impacts early next week,” he wrote.

Note: DeSantis is scheduled to speak in South Carolina Monday at the Faith & Freedom BBQ. A storm could pose a threat a few days later, closer to Labor Day, reported the News-Press.

Reminder: Floridians can get these hurricane prep items tax-free starting Saturday, via WTSP


INJUNCTION FILED OVER IMMIGRATION LAW — Several groups that sued the DeSantis administration in Miami federal court in July over Florida’s immigration law are now asking a judge to stop a section of the law from going forward.

It’s the second time the organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Florida, Americans for Immigrant Justice, and American Immigration Council, have asked for a preliminary injunction in the case.

The groups filed the lawsuit in July on behalf of Farmworkers Association of Florida, a non-profit farmworker membership organization. In the request for a preliminary injunction, they contend a portion of the law “is illegal under binding precedent and imposes a staggering hardship on Plaintiffs, other Floridians, and travelers to Florida, who now face criminal penalties for visiting their families, doing their jobs, seeking medical care, and engaging in other everyday activities.”

Under the law in question, FL SB 1718, authorities can charge someone with human trafficking for knowingly transporting an undocumented immigrant across state lines. It also bars undocumented immigrants from driving a car even if they have a driver’s license and requires hospitals that receive Medicaid to ask patients for their immigration status.

— David Kihara

CONSULTANT TO BE DEPOSED — U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor has ruled that a political consultant who played a role in helping DeSantis draw up a contentious congressional map can be deposed by the groups challenging the map in federal court. (This litigation — which heads to trial in late September — is separate from a case that was heard in circuit court on Thursday.)

Thomas Bryan, the founder and owner of BryanGeoDemographics, a firm that specializes in redistricting and voting rights litigation, helped out the governor’s redistricting effort in part by paying Adam Foltz. Foltz, who worked with Republicans on redistricting in Wisconsin and Texas, assisted Alex Kelly, the governor’s deputy chief of staff at time, in drawing up the maps presented and ultimately adopted by the Legislature after the governor vetoed the first map approved by lawmakers.

Bryan contended in a declaration to the court that while he provided geographic and demographic information to Foltz, he did not propose or draw any congressional boundaries or maps. Lawyers for DeSantis, Bryan and Secretary of State Cord Byrd argued that Bryan should be shielded from a deposition by primarily arguing that he is covered by “legislative privilege.”

But Winsor concluded that attorneys had not proven that Bryan should be shielded. “In other words, we are unpersuaded that legislative privilege shields him from all questions plaintiffs intend to ask him,” Winsor wrote in his Wednesday order.

— Gary Fineout

COURTS — “Florida judge skeptical of arguments to keep DeSantis’ congressional map,” by POLITICO’s Gary Fineout: The fate of DeSantis’ controversial congressional map is now with a circuit judge who, on Thursday, repeatedly pressed attorneys representing the state’s top elections official and the Republican-controlled Legislature on the map’s validity. The roughly four-hour hearing, stemming from a legal challenge to the redrawn districts, centered on the map pushed by the governor that dismantled a roughly 200-mile seat that connected minority voters in Tallahassee and Jacksonville and had been held by former Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat who lost last year after his seat was redrawn. Florida Republicans ultimately picked up four seats under the governor’s map for a total of 20 out of 28, a move that helped the GOP capture the U.S. House last year.

— “How long will Floridians have access to a legal abortion? The fight is on,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Cindy Krischer Goodman 

— “Transgender adults are worried about finding welcoming spaces to live in their later years,” by The Associated Press’ Andrew Demillo, Lynne Sladky and Laura Bargfeld 

EDUCATION — “Florida schools got hundreds of book complaints — mostly from 2 people,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Ian Hodgson: “Most of Florida’s 67 school districts didn’t log a single formal complaint about a book … Of the roughly 1,100 complaints recorded in Florida since July 2022, more than 700 came from two counties — Escambia in the western Panhandle and Clay near Jacksonville. Together the two districts make up less than 3% of the state’s total public school enrollment .About 600 of the complaints came from two people — a Clay County dad and a Pensacola high school teacher.”

— “Eleanor Weinstock, former state rep and senator who championed equal rights, dies at 94,” by Palm Beach Daily News’ Shannon Donnelly


POST DEBATE — ‘He held serve.’ But DeSantis is no longer the sole alternative to Trump, by Sally Goldenberg and Kimberly Leonard: Once viewed as a near-singular alternative to Trump, the Florida governor had been floundering for weeks, laying off staff and falling back in public opinion polls. But then came this week’s debate, and the re-focusing of the contest on Trump a day later. No longer Trump vs. DeSantis, the Republican primary is quickly reverting to Trump vs. everyone else.

“He steadied the ship and that was critical,” New Hampshire native and GOP consultant Matthew Bartlett said of DeSantis. “But in presidential politics, there comes a time when you are going to have to ace the test, not just pass it.”

BY THE NUMBERS — A Washington Post/FiveThirthyEight/Ipsos poll of Republican debate-watchers found DeSantis and Ramaswamy won the debate in Milwaukee, with DeSantis coming in at 29 percent.

Total viewership for the program was nearly 13 million, Fox News reported. The tally is far short of the 24 million viewers reported in 2016, WaPo wrote, adding that TV viewership overall has fallen “as fewer people are paying for and watching cable news.”

— “‘His eyes are on a different prize”: Some voters question if the governor is showing up enough for the state,” by News4Jax’s Tarik Minor 


MUGSHOT — The former president surrendered to authorities at the Fulton County Jail in Georgia and then returned to X following a two-year hiatus to post his campaign website next to his arrest photo.


Enter the “room where it happens”, where global power players shape policy and politics, with Power Play. POLITICO’s brand-new podcast will host conversations with the leaders and power players shaping the biggest ideas and driving the global conversations, moderated by award-winning journalist Anne McElvoy. Sign up today to be notified of the first episodes in September – click here.


RHONDA SANTIS — “Drag queens held their own presidential debate. Ron DeSantis was the big loser,” by the Sun-Sentinel’s Anthony Man: “This debate, in South Florida, involved four drag queens — Rhonda Santis, Donna Trump, Michelle Pence, and Christine Christie — verbally slaying the candidates they were representing: DeSantis, Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.”

— “Fox's Bret Baier buys Palm Beach house for $37 million in private deal,” by Palm Beach Post’s 

BIRTHDAYS: Former Tallahassee Democrat publisher Skip Foster … POLITICO’s Gary Fineout. (Saturday) Former State Sen. George Gainer … Christian Cámara, president of Chamber Consultants ... DeSantis campaign’s Lindsey Curnutte ... (Sunday) State Rep. Robin Bartleman … Roger Stone … Former Florida LG Jennifer Carroll …. Melissa Stone, CEO Calvary Strategies … former state Rep. Wengay Newton


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DeSantis hops into crypto donations fray


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