DeSantis car crash revealed misuse of government vehicles for 2024 campaign, report claims

‘The legislature has enabled him to hide his travel records so we don’t know and have no way to hold him accountable,’ watchdog says

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Saturday 29 July 2023 10:50 EDT

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The Tennesse car crash involving four vehicles in Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s motorcade has revealed that his campaign has misused government vehicles by using cars owned by the state of Florida in his presidential run, a report claims.

The crash that took place on Tuesday as the campaign team was travelling to fundraisers in three cities in the state shows how the campaign is using state resources, but it remains almost impossible to discover who’s funding it after a new law passed by the Florida legislature to shield Mr DeSantis’s travel records from the public, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The research director for nonprofit government watchdog Integrity Florida, Ben Wilcox, told the paper: “The legislature has enabled him to hide his travel records so we don’t know and have no way to hold him accountable if he is using state resources in his campaign or if that is even the case”.

Orlando Democratic state representative Anna Eskamani told the paper that “It’s absurd that he’s using public resources and public infrastructure to campaign. He’s using state resources to boost himself politically”.

The crash took place as the campaign was heading to a fundraiser when an accident further ahead caused traffic to slow down. A Tennessee Highway Patrol officer heading the motorcade stopped short, and the cars behind the officer rear-ended each other, according to Chattanooga Police.

“If the accident hadn’t been reported, we wouldn’t have known otherwise about the use of state vehicles,” Ms Eskamani added. “It makes you wonder how often state vehicles and public employees are being used at out-of-state campaign events.”

One DeSantis staffer was treated on the scene of the crash for minor injuries. There were no further injuries, police said. Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) agents were also involved in the accident. Police said all the vehicles in the crash were government-owned.

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger told the paper: “We’ve never answered questions about our protective operations assets (number of agents used, vehicles etc.)”

The federal campaign finance report filed on 15 July covering the three months leading up to 30 June doesn’t include any payments to FDLE for travel or security. The report states that $76,256 were spent on private security.

The DeSantis campaign has recently been in the news for spending large amounts without much to show for it, and recently laying off 38 people – a third of the campaign staff.

Travel and staffing appear to be large expenses for the campaign as Mr DeSantis has been reported to be travelling with a larger group of staffers compared to other candidates.

The campaign had raised $20m as of 30 June and they had spent $8.2m – more than a million on payroll and almost as much on travel – $896,000.

Mr DeSantis is reported to prefer to fly in private jets provided by a number of top donors, the Sentinel notes. Since the start of his gubernatorial re-election campaign last year, there have been questions about whose private jets he’s using and if they’re reported as in-kind contributions or gifts.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a sitting governor run for [president],” Mr Wilcox told the paper.

The director of public access for the Florida Center for Government Accountability, Michael Barfield, told the paper that “at the end of the day, taxpayers don’t know what their money is being spent on”.

He added that the group is considering its next legal steps.

“We’re questioning the validity of the exemption,” Mr Barfield said. “We don’t think it meets a public purpose, so we will brainstorm about potential legal action.”

Ms Eskamani said the legislature could repeal the public records exemption, but that “It would take a political will that doesn’t exist, even for something as nonpartisan as access to travel records”.

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

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