Florida election officials change campaign finance guidelines, which could help DeSantis allies

Stephen Maturen/Getty Images/File

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during an Iowa Republican Party reception on May 13, 2023 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


Florida officials changed state campaign finance guidelines in a way that could allow allies of Gov. Ron DeSantis to wire 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 manual issued by the Florida Department of State, is significant in that it covers the specific type of transfer funds DeSantis’s allies have planned to support his presidential campaign. The planned move has already generated a surveillance complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

The updated version of the manual was published in March 2023, months before DeSantis launched his presidential campaign, and was first reported by NBC News.

In an appendix covering frequently asked questions, the manual advises Florida committees on whether they can make contributions to political entities outside of the state, including a federal candidate or political action committee.

Versions of the manual dating from 2016 say: “No. A Florida political committee must use its funds only for Florida political activities.” However, the version for the 2024 cycle cautions: “A Florida political committee may make contributions to an out-of-state political entity that is engaged solely in uncoordinated spending.”

CNN has reached out to the Florida Department of State and the DeSantis campaign for comment.

As governor, DeSantis amassed more than $80 million through a state political committee that his allies intend to transfer to Never Back Down, a super PAC that backs his 2024 presidential bid and the kind of group that is dedicated expressly to uncoordinated spending.

The funds and transfer have come under 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 the case is unlikely to be resolved in time.

The group’s complaint alleges DeSantis allies “violated federal campaign finance laws by directing or transferring more than $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 into his presidential campaign account. As a workaround, DeSantis’s allies aim to transfer that money to the federal super PAC, which is currently spending millions to support his run for the White House.

In recent weeks, DeSantis has disassociated himself from his state committee: its chair has resigned and a new chair, state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, a DeSantis ally, now has stewardship of the leftover funds. The committee, formerly called the Friends of Ron DeSantis, has changed its name to 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 if the FEC can or would intervene. A similar case arose during the 2020 elections, related to the management of funds by Republican representative Byron Donalds. The FEC did not take any enforcement action in that case.

Never Back Down also does not 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.

To further hamper the likelihood of enforcement action, the six commissioners currently leading the FEC have repeatedly deadlocked, 3-3, in several high-profile cases that have appeared before the commission.

CNN has reached out to the Campaign Legal Center, Never Back Down and Empower Parents PAC for comment.

This headline and story have been updated with additional reporting.