Transparency around who is influencing public officials is integral for the public to know whether their officials are acting in the public’s interest, or in their own personal interests, or the interests of the wealthy special interests who are giving them gifts.
Without this insight, it is impossible for the public to know what forces may be swaying the opinions of those who have been elected or appointed to serve in our government. For example, if a company or organization – or even a wealthy individual – is footing the bill as a high-ranking official traverses the country for trips unrelated to that official’s duties, it is important for voters to be aware as that entity paying for the travel may very well hold stake in an urgent matter before that official.
That is why Campaign Legal Center has filed a complaint against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for failing to report gifts of private jet travel he received from a nonprofit organization called And To The Republic (ATTR).
In February 2023, ATTR organized nearly a dozen speaking events for Gov. DeSantis, seemingly unrelated to his official duties as governor, in at least eight states. This service included arranging transportation in the form of private jet travel to these events.
Under Florida law, elected officials are required to report any travel gifts they receive that are worth over $100. While the exact cost of the services rendered is unclear, the cost of a private jet can range from $2,000 to 11,000 per billable flight hour, easily surpassing the $100 threshold required for reporting.
Despite the clear requirement in Florida law that these travel gifts must be reported, Gov. DeSantis failed to disclose them to the public, denying voters insight into what interests he may be beholden to.
Notably, and of concern to ethics watchdogs, at least one of the flights ATTR arranged for Gov. DeSantis to take was on the jet owned by wealthy Miami Beach hotelier Jeffrey Soffer. According to reporting, Mr. Soffer has recently been lobbying for a change to Florida law that would allow him to expand gambling at his Miami Beach resort.
Transparency laws such as those that require Gov. DeSantis to disclose this travel are vitally important to maintaining public trust in both elected officials and our democracy more broadly.
Without this disclosure, voters would have no knowledge of the incredible access Mr. Soffer and other special interests with active business in the state have been able to obtain on the free trips provided to the Governor. This kind of knowledge is essential to democracy because it allows voters to make a fully informed decision when casting their vote.