Please ignore the existence of a $250,000 political contribution given to Governor Ron DeSantis’s political committee by Everglades Foundation co-founder and billionaire environmental activist Paul Tudor Jones. Please also ignore the timing of the gift (last month), and the governor’s vocal opposition to Senate Bill 2508. There is apparently no coincidence, because neither the national media nor Florida’s equally liberal major newspapers have made any effort to link the two.
Of course, when DeSantis’s public policy decisions are in direct opposition to Democrats (as they usually are), media outlets have worked hard to link his political contributions to his policy choices. Sometimes, they even flatly accuse DeSantis of pay-to-play politics, favoritism and political back-scratching.
But not this week.
That’s because, despite the easy slam dunk the media could have made on DeSantis’s head, they instead gave him a free pass and ignored any possible connection between the $250,000 check and DeSantis asking “how high” when the Everglades Foundation told him to jump.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a DeSantis fan, and I want him to succeed. But I call him out whenever he drifts into populist policies, or worse, when he risks his reputation as a no-nonsense conservative. That’s what happened this week, when he got suckered by Everglades Foundation front group Captains for Clean Water to speak out against Senate Bill 2508.
Sadly, we know DeSantis was told to jump by the state’s environmentalist activists because both he and Chauncey Goss, a DeSantis appointee to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), both echoed the woefully misinformed rhetoric of Captains for Clean Water on the bill. Goss also happens to be the treasurer for Captains for Clean Water.
Why DeSantis takes phone calls from the group is still not clear, other than the obvious Paul Tudor Jones connection. Perhaps Goss is the man to blame in this case. His group, Captains for Clean Water, has a lousy reputation to begin with, and this week they got caught lying about their well-documented financial ties to the Jones-funded Everglades Foundation.
Given the fact that DeSantis is now playing on the national stage, his team – at a minimum – must work to ensure that anything he’s told by left-wing environmental groups, like Captains for Clean Water, gets vetted with extra care. And that should go double for alleged DeSantis “allies” like Chauncey Goss, who isn’t just a Captains for Clean Water board member, he’s a creature of inside-the-beltway D.C. politics.
When challenged by Democrat Senator Jason Pizzo, Goss refused to answer basic questions.
“What section of the bill do you want taken out, removed or amended?” Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami Democrat, asked. “What section of the bill gives you concern?”
“I don’t want to negotiate the bill with you right here,” Goss said.
Drilling down on where things went wrong: it turns out that the talking points DeSantis relied from Goss and Captains for Clean Water were so badly flawed that DeSantis appeared comically misinformed about what the bill would actually do. Representatives for Captains for Clean Water testified that the bill would undo previous legislation (SB 10) that prioritized Everglades restoration efforts. DeSantis echoed those concerns in a “Statement of Administration Policy” posted on his official website:
I have been a champion for Everglades restoration and oppose any measure that derails progress on reducing harmful discharges and sending more water to the Everglades. Moreover, I reject any attempt to deprioritize the EAA Reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee.
Rather than advancing legislation seeking to affect a major change in policy, SB 2508 is being rammed through the budget process, short-circuiting public engagement and leaving affected agencies in the dark.
But keep in mind that 13 conservative, Republican senators and four Democrats (Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, and Senators Audrey Gibson, Bobby Powell, and Darryl Rouson) voted in favor of the bill, in part because it doesn’t actually do what DeSantis, Goss, and the Captains for Clean Water claimed. Only four Senators voted against the bill, three of them Democrats.
Republican Senator Ben Albritton said he didn’t think many of the people who testified this week (- ahem – Captains for Clean Water) understood the bill.
“I believe you’ve been misled,” Albritton said.
He wasn’t alone in pointing out the obvious. According to Florida Politics:
Sen. Travis Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican, said opponents worried about cuts to the EAA reservoir were confused by the language of the bill and noted the other projects will still help increase storage of water so that discharges of polluted water aren’t necessary.
But Senate President Wilton Simpson summed it up best in a direct response to DeSantis’s statement:
“Floridians have invested billions of their hard-earned dollars in environmental restoration and this Senate is going to safeguard that investment. I am never going to cede one inch of state authority over our water resources to Joe Biden’s federal government — the same administration that did not include one dollar of federal funding for the reservoir in their so-called infrastructure bill.”
One other important reason for the bipartisan support of the bill: it protects drinking water for millions of people, as the City of West Palm Beach pointed out.
DeSantis is allowed to make mistakes. But normally, both national and state media outlets would have pounced upon him the instant he did so – and they’d have been extra vicious if DeSantis’s error had been in favor of a conservative policy position. Even more still if they uncovered a political donation they could easily link to the policy position.
But no such stories appeared last week. Most of the headlines noted that DeSantis “slammed” or “blasted” the bill, and that’s pretty much it. If DeSantis was hoping for praise from the legacy media he didn’t get it. But at least he got a free pass for supporting one of their favorite environmental activist groups. And best of all for DeSantis, the media doesn’t even mind him raking in political donations for doing so.