DeSantis accused of breaking the law with Texas border trip

‘His campaign has to reimburse the state of Texas for the cost, or else he’s received an unreported and likely excessive in-kind contribution’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Thursday 29 June 2023 21:58 BST
Related video: Ron DeSantis says Trump ‘full of it’ over attacks on Covid-19 record

The presidential campaign of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been accused of breaking the law after the team shared an image on Twitter of the candidate exiting a helicopter that records show is owned by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Mr DeSantis was in Eagle Pass, Texas on Monday to visit the US-Mexico border when the campaign shared the photo with the caption “MISSION: Stop the invasion STATUS: Critical LEAD: @RonDeSantis”.

Legal experts now say that the use of Texas government resources in a political ad is a campaign finance violation.

Other questions include how the border trip was paid for and why the campaign was given access to property owned by the state of Texas for a political campaign trip.

Texas state law also outlaws the use of public funds and resources to support a candidate for office, The Daily Beast noted.

The trip included a tour in the air of the border area, which lines up with the flight records for the helicopter.

Mr DeSantis also took a boat ride on the Rio Grande, seeing migrants attempting to cross, according to Fox News.

After the tour of the border, Mr DeSantis gave a campaign speech on immigration after being introduced by Texas Republican Representative Chip Roy, who has endorsed the governor in the presidential race.

Mr DeSantis made the speech in front of a banner telling the audience to text “FREEDOM” to a number to receive updates from the campaign.

It remains unclear if the campaign reimbursed the Texas government for the trip.

The director of federal campaign finance reform at the Campaign Legal Center, Saurav Ghosh, told The Daily Beast that if Mr DeSantis used tax money for the trip, “his campaign has to reimburse the state of Texas for the cost, or else he’s received an unreported and likely excessive in-kind contribution”.

“If he misuses public resources to run for president, it’s an abuse of his position and a likely violation of federal campaign finance laws,” he added.

The communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Jordan Libowitz, told the outlet that government resources “should not be used to help a candidate for partisan political office”.

He added that even if the campaign reimbursed the state of Texas, it still doesn’t explain how the DeSantis team was allowed to use state vehicles.

Federal political committees have made four payments to the Texas Department of Public Safety, with the largest being $10 in 2014, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

No committee seems to have paid Texas for events or fundraising in a recent election, a review of all FEC disbursements to Texas entities of at least $1,000 during the last five election cycles shows.

Mr DeSantis could clear up the situation by reimbursing the state, but Texas state law bans any use of public funds for political events. The law states that any state agency cannot use “any money under its control, including appropriated money,” to fund “or otherwise support” a candidate for office on either the federal or state level.

The ban also includes “the direct or indirect employment” of state employees, who may “may not use a state-owned or state-leased motor vehicle” for such events – seemingly like the governor’s boat tour.

The state law outlaws state workers from using their “authority or influence” in a campaign setting and it also prohibits “the use of a program administered by the state agency of which the person is an officer or employee” to influence an election “or to achieve any other political purpose”.

The photo shared on the campaign account makes it harder to argue that the Texas trip was part of Mr DeSantis’ work as the governor of Florida. Similarly, Mr DeSantis also held a speech in which he slammed the border policies of President Joe Biden as well as his main rival for the Republican Presidential nomination – former President Donald Trump.

In a statement to The Independent, the Texas Department of Public Safety said: “On Sunday, June 25, 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis visited Eagle Pass, Texas, and was briefed by Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) personnel on Operation Lone Star.

“The briefing was coordinated by Florida and Texas law enforcement partners who are currently working together along the Texas/Mexico border.

“The briefing included an aerial tour which was provided by DPS in order to give Gov. DeSantis a clearer understanding of how Florida’s resources are being utilized along our southern border and see the challenges first hand. Gov. DeSantis also toured the area by water on boats owned and operated by the state of Florida.”

The Independent has reached out to the DeSantis campaign for comment.

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