TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In late February, a jet owned by the company associated with the Fontainebleau Hotel flew from Tallahassee to Newark ahead of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ appearance on Staten Island. That same day a jet owned by a central Florida developer flew from Newark to Philadelphia to Chicago to Tallahassee when the governor also made stops that same day in Pennsylvania and Illinois.
Who paid for these flights? The governor’s office said no taxpayer money was spent on these flights in connection with DeSantis’ three-city stop that day. A spokesperson who has been affiliated with the governor’s political operation declined to comment. There was nothing listed in the governor’s political committee campaign finance report for February.
The state Republican Party spent money on travel expenses in the first quarter, including on commercial airlines and for what appear to be chartered flights in January and March, but there are no indications the governor’s February trip was a gift to the party. The party executive director did not respond to a question back in February about DeSantis’ trips to New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, flight tracking records show that a private chartered jet last week flew from Austin, Texas, to Japan to South Korea to Israel to London and then, over the weekend, stopped in Boston before finally winding up in Tallahassee. Those stops coincide with the governor’s movements for the past week.
It has been previously stated that this trip is being paid for by private donations to Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development agency that is about to be dismantled by the Legislature. But a spokesperson for Enterprise Florida has not responded to questions as to why a chartered jet — which is likely to be tremendously expensive — was used for DeSantis’ trip. The agency was also asked about how much this will ultimately cost.
State Rep. Jeff Holcomb — the House sponsor of a bill that would shield DeSantis’ travel records associated with taxpayer paid travel from scrutiny — suggested on the House floor on Monday that who pays for the governor’s whereabouts, including any travel for book promotional tours or campaigning, would still somehow be available. The book tour stops were handled by a nonprofit organization, which doesn’t have to disclose most of its records.
Supporters of the legislation, which would also cover travel records of other top state officials, say it is needed for security purposes. DeSantis, when asked about it on Monday, said that it wasn’t something that he recommended but also said that he gets a lot of threats.
But the bill, which is poised to go to his desk, isn’t just for future expenses. It would also shield records for all past trips from public view. The argument in favor of shielding past travel is to avoid shedding light on patterns of movement, but the bill is so broadly written that the state could refuse to hand over basic information such as what city and what day a state jet is used.
This comes just ahead of an expected presidential campaign by the governor.
In the not-so-distant past news organizations uncovered questionable uses of the state jet for a variety of top Florida politicians, including then-Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and then-Attorney General Bill McCollum. That led to candidate and then Gov. Rick Scott to sell off Florida’s state-owned jets. It was easy for Scott to do that since he owned a private jet.
But soon after DeSantis was elected, state legislators reversed that. They are now poised to put a cloak of darkness over all of it.
This story first appeared in Florida Playbook. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.