Watchdog group accuses DeSantis campaign and super PAC of illegal coordination in FEC complaint

by | Dec 18, 2023



  • The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint with the FEC, alleging illegal coordination between Gov. Ron DeSantis’s 2024 presidential campaign and the super PAC Never Back Down, potentially violating the Federal Election Campaign Act.
  • The CLC asserts that DeSantis’s campaign directed the super PAC’s ad strategies, citing instances of influence over ads targeting Nikki Haley and strategic memos leaked to guide the super PAC’s focus.
  • Upon making contact, the DeSantis campaign dismissed the allegations as baseless and a targeted attack by “the Left.”

The Campaign Legal Center (CLC), a non-partisan election watchdog group, filed a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on Monday alleging illegal coordination between Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 2024 presidential campaign and the super PAC Never Back Down.

The CLC filing claims that the DeSantis campaign directed Never Back Down’s advertising and messaging strategies, including specific instances where the campaign allegedly influenced the super PAC’s decisions on advertisements targeting Nikki Haley.

If investigated and corroborated, the DeSantis campaign’s actions would be in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act, which mandates separation between candidate campaigns and independent expenditure groups including PACs and Super PACs.

“Never Back Down PAC has for months coordinated its activities with and made in-kind contributions to DeSantis and his campaign committee, contravening the explicit legal requirement that super PACs must remain “independent” of—i.e., not coordinate with or make contributions to—federal candidates or their campaigns,” the complaint states.

The complaint additionally highlights instances where DeSantis reportedly expressed dissatisfaction with the super PAC’s advertising decisions and alleges that the concerns were relayed through intermediaries to the PAC’s board members and subsequently to its staff.

“DeSantis privately expressed that he was “frustrated” by the decision to pull the ad. DeSantis’ team shared with Never PAC board members that DeSantis wanted to see the ad go back on the air,” the complaint contends, citing a report published by AP News. “Those board members, in turn, “relayed the DeSantis team’s wishes to super PAC staff responsible for executing strategy.”

CLC’s filing also references a memo reportedly leaked by DeSantis’ campaign and alleges it was done to contravene federal law and communicate campaign strategy between the entities. The leaked document, dated July 6, 2023, also provided additional information about the DeSantis campaign’s needs. For instance, at a time when Never Back Down was focused on organizing voters in Iowa, the document made a plea for greater involvement in New Hampshire, according to CLC.

“Over the summer, the DeSantis campaign reportedly “leaked” a document containing precisely the sort of requests and strategic information that candidates and super PACs cannot legally share. The document outlined the campaign’s desire to see heightened attention on certain issues, including China,” reads the complaint. “Indeed, Never PAC’s subsequent ad attacking Haley focused on China, and the campaign reiterated—more forcefully through private back channels when the ad came down—that the PAC should continue that line of attack.”

DeSantis’ campaign has characterized the complaint as an attempt by “the Left” to undermine the Florida governor’s campaign, subsequently referring to the accusations as baseless and unverified.

“This baseless complaint is just another example of how the Left is terrified of Ron DeSantis and will stoop to anything to stop him,” campaign spokesperson Andrew Romeo told The Capitolist via email. “The FEC has made clear they won’t take action based upon unverified rumors and innuendo, and that’s the false information this politically motivated complaint is based on.”

In May, CLC filed a separate claim with the FEC that claimed DeSantis’ campaign breached campaign finance laws that DeSantis’ statewide PAC used throughout his gubernatorial campaign, Friends of Ron DeSantis, transferred more than $80 million of money to Never Back Down.

The group argued that the transfer of funds violates a ban on “soft money” – funds raised in circumstances where federal campaign finance laws don’t apply — due to the money that Friends of Ron DeSantis raised not being subject to federal contribution limits, source prohibitions, and reporting requirements.

Financial documents released in June confirmed that Empower Parents Political Action Committee (PAC), which previously operated as Friends of Ron DeSantis, transferred $82.5 million to Never Back Down, though the FEC declined to take action.

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