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DeSantis’ Florida friends are bankrolling his campaign

Presented by Amazon: Kimberly Leonard's must-read briefing on what's hot, crazy or shady about politics in the Sunshine State
Oct 16, 2023 View in browser

By Kimberly Leonard

Presented by

Gov. Ron Desantis and then-Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran at Bayview Elementary School on Oct. 7, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Good morning and welcome to Monday. 

Some of the most recognizable names in Tallahassee gave to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign, new filings that cover fundraising from July to September reveal.

They include former House speaker and education commissioner Richard Corcoran, who was just confirmed as president of the DeSantis-overhauled New College of Florida, and his wife, Anne; Glen Gilzean, the administrator overseeing the transformed district surrounding Walt Disney World; Ret. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. James “Hammer” Hartsell, executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Dave Kerner, executive director of the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

On the business end, they include James Allen, who’s in charge of gaming operations for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has a $2.5 billion gambling pact with the state that's currently being challenged and held up in court.

Those names were among more than 380 Floridians who gave at least $200 to DeSantis’ 2024 campaign. They show DeSantis continues to lean on Florida, where he built a fundraising powerhouse and held events to raise money in Tampa and Miami just this month. He also benefited from state lawmakers who’ve made calls to donors on his behalf.

A few other names that caught Playbook’s attention, along with the amount donated last quarter, were:

  • Michael DiNapoli, the executive director of Florida’s affordable housing agency who was suspended last month (appears to have maxed out)
  • Jeremy Redfern, DeSantis’ press secretary in the governor’s office ($1,000)
  • Henry Mack III, the former senior chancellor at the state’s department of education who was tapped to lead Broward College this month before contract negotiations broke down ($1,041)
  • David Axelman, general counsel at the Florida House ($2,300)
  • Dane Eagle, the former DeSantis-appointed secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity now at Ballard Partners ($3,300)
  • Jeff Atwater, Florida’s former Chief Financial Officer who’s now a partner at Ballard Partners ($3,300)
  • Adrian Lukis, DeSantis’ former chief of staff in the governor’s office who’s now a partner at Ballard Partners ($6,600) 
  • William Rubin, a lobbyist who co-chaired DeSantis’ 2018 inaugural committee (appears to have maxed out) 
  • Stephanie Kopelousos, DeSantis’ former long-time director of legislative and intergovernmental affairs who now works for his campaign ($500), as well as Peter Cuderman, who currently holds the job in the governor’s office ($1,000)
  • FDLE chief of staff Shane Desguin ($1,300) and Lance Neff ($1,000), general counsel at the Florida Department of Corrections 
  • GOP Rep. Cyndi Stevenson of St. Johns ($1,000)

The DeSantis campaign has just $5 million cash on hand that he can spend during the GOP primary due to contribution limits. Our POLITICO colleagues Jessica Piper and Sally Goldenberg break down the numbers further, finding that DeSantis spent almost as much money as he raised despite staff cuts.

— WHERE'S RON? Gov. DeSantis has a campaign event in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. He’ll be in South Carolina later this week.

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‘DESANTIS AIRLINES’ — “A plane with 270 American passengers, including 91 kids, flew in from Israel to the United States and was greeted by DeSantis and his family,” writes WFLA. “The plane flew through Portugal to get to Tampa International Airport, landing around 7:45 p.m.”

TODAY — Select committees will meet to discuss hurricane resiliency and health care innovation. A joint Legislative auditing committee kicks off at 3:30 p.m. (Follow along live.)

TOMORROW — The Florida Senate will declare state Sen. Ben Albritton president-designate during a ceremony at 2 p.m. In an interview with Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Albritton pushed back on the idea that DeSantis has too much control over the Legislature and said property insurance was “on the radar.”

ANTI-ISRAEL RHETORIC HITTING HOME — “Israel attack takes place amid backdrop of rising antisemitism in Florida, elsewhere,” by Palm Beach Post’s Antonio Fins and Giuseppe Sabella: “The state has been the scene of chronic antisemitic incidents, from insidious leaflet distributions in communities to brazen displays of hate messages projected on buildings from the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville to a corporate office in West Palm Beach. The episodes were so disturbing that they prompted state lawmakers to pass legislation to clearly classify such projections as third-degree felonies and hate crimes.”

DESANTIS ALLY — Rep. Randy Fine calls for expulsions amid anti-Israel college rallies, by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: Florida’s only Jewish Republican state lawmaker on Friday urged DeSantis to dole out swift and severe punishment to students and faculty who participated pro-Palestinian rallies as college campuses become flashpoints for the war in Israel. Rep. Randy Fine called on the governor to use Florida’s antisemitism laws to expel students and fire faculty members who took part in campus demonstrations that he said celebrate “Jewish deaths.”

FLORIDA NO. 1 IN PRESCHOOL EDUCATION EQUITY — That’s according to a new U.S. News & World Report ranking given not only because Florida has a high enrollment, of 61 percent, but also because enrollment is similar across racial groups, reported Andrew Marra of the Palm Beach Post.

SAFETY TOURS — “Stoneman Douglas High shooting site visited one last time by lawmakers and educators,” by The Associated Press: The building has been kept as evidence but will be demolished next summer. Policymakers have been visiting to understand how to make schools safer.

ENHANCED SECURITY — The Florida Capitol is getting 1,656 new bulletproof windows by 2027 at a cost of $61 million, reports Tallahassee Democrats’ James Call. The new widows are also more energy efficient and come after Republican elected officials authorized permitless carry in the state.

ABANDONED BOATS — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will ask the Legislature for $7 million to remove any damaged boats from the water, writes Florida News Service’s Jim Saunders.

JUDICIAL REVAMP — “Overhaul of judicial circuits draws heavy fire, seen by some as takeover by DeSantis,” by USA Today Network — Florida’s John Kennedy: In a public hearing in Tampa Friday, almost all speakers opposed consolidating the boundaries of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits. “House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, put the consolidation idea in play in June. He asked the Florida Supreme Court to consider whether judicial circuit boundaries, last reviewed in 1969, should be recast, given the state’s growing population.”

Committee members have to give recommendations to the Florida Supreme Court by Dec. 1, writes the Florida Phoenix.


Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (center) poses for photographs after speaking during the Feenstra Family Picnic event in Sioux Center, Iowa on May 13th, 2023. (Photo by Léa DAUPLE / AFP) (Photo by LEA DAUPLE/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

19 TO GO — DeSantis will soon have visited all 99 counties in Iowa, hitting what’s known as the “Full Grassley” after Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), reports Florida Politics’ Danny McAuliffe.

WAR STANCE — DeSantis said the U.S. shouldn’t take in refugees from Gaza, claiming during a campaign event in Iowa that, “They are all anti-Semitic,” writes POLITICO’s Olivia Alafriz. The governor said instead that Palestinians should go to the “Arab states.” Israel is expected to move forward with a ground invasion of northern Gaza in retaliation for Hamas’ attacks and ordered 1.1 million civilians to cram into the southern portion of the small territory.


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FEB. 8 — “DeSantis will participate in Nevada caucuses despite criticizing them,” by NYT’s Maggie Haberman and Shane Goldmacher — The DeSantis campaign and other 2024 rivals have said they think the system will benefit former President Donald Trump.

MORE CAMPAIGN FILINGS — Miami Mayor Francis Suarez spent $400,000 trying to get to the presidential debate stage, reports McClatchy’s Ben Wieder. Suarez tried to inflate his donor numbers by offering $20 gift cards to donors who gave at least $1. The money accounted for 30 percent of the campaign’s expenditures during the third quarter but failed to get Suarez onstage in Milwaukee, Wis.

NEW ROLE — Larry Keefe, the public safety czar who coordinated DeSantis’ migrant flights, resigned his post in September and now volunteers for DeSantis’ presidential campaign, reports the Miami Herald’s Ana Ceballos. Keefe worked for the DeSantis administration for two years.

THE PITCH FOR NO. 2 — DeSantis and Haley just made their pitch to top GOP donors, by POLITICO’s Alex Isenstadt: Real estate developer Harlan Crow hosted a conference in Dallas over the weekend with an eye toward helping consolidate the field of Republican candidates. Senior adviser Ryan Tyson and campaign manager James Uthmeier argued that 90 percent of current DeSantis supporters would ultimately vote for Trump should he drop out, whereas Haley’s voters would disperse to other non-Trump candidates, namely DeSantis. The DeSantis officials argued that Haley would ultimately lose a head-to-head contest with Trump by a 70-30 margin.


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FLOTUS IN FLORIDA — First Lady Jill Biden is scheduled to speak at a Cancer Survivorship Summit in Davie and then will visit with military families at Patrick Space Force Base near Cape Canaveral.

STILL NO U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER — Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio is expected to get a floor vote Tuesday and some Republicans are planning to put up a challenger against him, writes POLITICO’s Olivia Beaver.


ON THE MENU — It’s now stone crab season.

NOW’S THE TIME TO GET THAT FISHING LICENSE — Fishing and hunting licenses are half off through Jan. 13 under a Great Outdoors Initiative DeSantis just announced, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Floridians can also pay $30 — as opposed to the usual $60 — for annual state park passes.

BIRTHDAYS: Former State Sen. Loranne Ausley … Beth Switzer, former executive director at WFSU-TV/The Florida Channel ... Mark Maxwell, partner SCG Governmental Affairs


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DeSantis’ Florida friends are bankrolling his campaign


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