Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took several undisclosed trips in 2018 on private jets owned by donors—including one who provided a pricey golf simulator to the governor’s mansion and later benefitted from public funding for a highway project DeSantis’ administration approved—part of a pattern of ethically questionable private jet travel and perks that raised alarms with advisors, the Washington Post reported.
DeSantis flew to Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia in 2018 on a plane owned by Mori Hosseini, and took four other flights that year on a private plane registered to another donor, John Cwik, but did not disclose the trips as gifts, contributions or expenditures to his campaign, political action committee or the Florida Republican Party, the Post reported, citing travel records and financial disclosure forms.
Hosseini, a home builder whose companies have given $1 million to a PAC supporting DeSantis’s presidential campaign, loaned a golf simulator to the governor’s mansion shortly after DeSantis moved in, and, last year, DeSantis’ administration approved $92 million in funding for a highway project that will enhance access to a mixed-use development Hosseini is building, the Post reported previously.
Also not disclosed were the round of golf DeSantis and Hosseini played at the storied club with its chairman, Fred Ridley, and DeSantis’ one-night stay on the property in Dwight D. Eisenhower cabin built for the former president, according to the Post.
All gifts over $100 are required to be reported to the Florida Ethics Commission, while travel for political purposes must be reported as in-kind campaign contributions, the Post reported, citing a memo from DeSantis’ former campaign lawyer.
DeSantis, who had won election to his first term at the time of the Augusta trip but had yet to be sworn in, could have avoided reporting the travel under a provision in state ethics rules that makes an exception for private plane use reimbursed at the cost of a coach ticket on the same route, the paper noted.
DeSantis’ preference for flying private and rubbing elbows with wealthy Floridians raised concerns among his advisors, according to the Post, citing people familiar with the situation who said DeSantis’ campaign lawyer wrote the memo obtained by the paper, in part, to explain to DeSantis the limitations of state ethics laws.
DeSantis presidential campaign spokesperson Andrew Romeo told the paper the travel was “compliant and received proper payment,” adding “efforts to fundraise for state political parties and cultivate relationships with state officials are standard for political leaders, especially during an election year.” Hosseini defended his conduct to the Post and said he always acted “legally.” Cwik told the paper he didn’t know how the flights were paid for but recalled DeSantis rejecting his offer to use his plane for free: “I tried to give it to him one day at a fundraiser and he said ‘I can’t do that,’” Cwik reportedly said.
“Valuing lodging and golf rounds that are not generally available to the public would be more complicated” than valuing private travel costs, former Florida Ethics Commission general counsel and deputy executive director Caroline Klancke told the Post. It’s also unclear if the pricey golf simulator ran afoul of state ethics rules, since the device is located on state-owned property overseen by the Florida Department of Management Services.
Hosseini has allowed DeSantis and his wife, Casey, to use his plane at least a dozen times, according to financial disclosures for his campaign and political action committee that show at least 50 more instances for private air travel dating back to 2021, the Post reported previously. On the 2018 trip to Augusta, Hosseini and DeSantis were accompanied by then-state Senate President Bill Galvano. The Post reported it was unable to find evidence Galvano disclosed the trip as required, but he told the paper in a statement “any and all travel” he did “was always done in accordance with Florida law and part of the job.”
Companies controlled by Hosseini gave at least $361,000 combined to the Friends of Ron DeSantis super-PAC supporting his 2022 reelection campaign, the Florida Republican Party and DeSantis’ campaign, the Post reported previously. Hosseini and his companies also reportedly donated $75,000 to the state GOP during the 2018 campaign cycle. DeSantis in 2021 appointed Ridley to the University of Florida Board of Trustees and reappointed Hosseini as chairman. The DeSantis Administration also approved the use of $92 million in federal Covid-19 relief funds to help pay for a highway interchange Hosseini had long advocated for. The project includes several partial access roads onto the property Hosseini is developing in Port Orange.
DeSantis Received High-End Golf Simulator, Private Flights From Donor, Report Says (Forbes)
Florida Approved $92 Million For Project Backed By DeSantis Donor, Report Says (Forbes)
Air DeSantis: The Private Jets and Secret Donors Flying Him Around (The New York Times)