Florida officials changed state campaign finance guidelines in a way that could allow allies of Gov. Ron DeSantis to move tens of millions of dollars to a super PAC supporting his 2024 presidential campaign, state records show.
The change – made to the Florida Political Committee handbook, which is issued by the Florida Department of State – is significant as it covers the specific kind of transfer of funds that DeSantis allies have planned to support his presidential campaign. The planned move has already drawn a watchdog complaint with the Federal Election Commission.
The updated version of the handbook was published in March of 2023 – months before DeSantis launched his presidential campaign – and was first reported by NBC News.
In an appendix covering frequently asked questions, the handbook advises Florida committees on whether they can make contributions to out-of-state political entities, including a federal candidate or political action committee.
Versions of the handbook dating back to 2016 read, “No. A Florida political committee must use its funds solely for Florida political activities.” The version for the 2024 cycle, however, advises, “A Florida political committee may make contributions to an out-of-state political entity that engages solely in non-coordinated expenditures.”
CNN has reached out to the Florida Department of State and the DeSantis campaign for comment.
As governor, DeSantis accumulated more than $80 million through a state political committee that his allies intend to transfer to Never Back Down, a super PAC backing his 2024 presidential bid and the type of group that expressly engages in non-coordinated expenditures.
The funds, and the transfer, have been the subject of scrutiny as federal campaign finance law is unclear on the matter. The Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group, filed a complaint with the FEC about the transfer on Tuesday, but timely resolution of the case is unlikely.
The group’s complaint alleges that DeSantis’ allies “violated federal campaign finance laws by directing or transferring over $80 million to Never Back Down.”
DeSantis raised the tens of millions of dollars through the state political committee, but that money can’t go directly to his presidential campaign account. As a workaround, the DeSantis allies are aiming to transfer that money to the federal super PAC, which is currently spending millions supporting his White House bid.
In recent weeks, DeSantis has disassociated from his state committee – his chairperson stepped down and a new chairperson, state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, a DeSantis ally, now has stewardship over the leftover funds. The committee, formerly called Friends of Ron DeSantis, changed its name to the Empower Parents PAC. And its website says the reformed political committee “supports the national advancement of issues and candidates committed to protecting parental rights in education.”
It’s unclear that the FEC can – or would – step in. A similar case arose during the 2020 election, concerning the management of funds by GOP Rep. Byron Donalds. The FEC took no enforcement action in that case.
Never Back Down also does not yet appear to have received the transfer of funds from DeSantis’ Florida committee, though the group has yet to file a full report detailing its finances with the FEC.
Further hampering the likelihood of enforcement action, the six commissioners currently leading the FEC have repeatedly deadlocked, 3-3, on several high-profile cases that have appeared before the commission.
CNN has reached out to the Campaign Legal Center, Never Back Down and the Empower Parents PAC for comment.
This headline and story have been updated with additional reporting.