Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has received more than $ 100,000 in the past few months from a mysterious donor that federal regulators previously said may have been illegally set up to hide the likely source of the donors. But it remains unclear who is behind the Delaware-based company or its political generosity.
The contribution to a DeSantis-controlled political committee comes as he stepped up his fundraising efforts ahead of his 2022 re-election campaign. DeSantis, who is also widely believed to be eyeing a run at the White House, has raised nearly $ 30 million to his political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, since the beginning of the year.
Of that, $ 110,000 came from Tread Standard, LLC, which was the subject of a Federal Election Commission complaint during the 2016 election cycle. The American Democracy Legal Fund’s lawsuit, led by a former DNC official, came after Tread Standard donated $ 150,000 to a super PAC that backed former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s failed presidential run .
The office of the FEC General Counsel released a report alleging the Tread Standard was likely set up to obscure the “true source” of the post. It didn’t make any direct inferences about who the donor was, but a report by a General Counsel referred directly to the Miami-based Lennar Corporation, one of the largest home builders and development companies in the country.
Red flags have been hoisted for FEC attorneys because the six-figure contribution to the Super-PAC, which supports Bush, was made less than two months after Tread Standard was founded in Delaware, and because there was no sign that the company was doing anything that generated its own revenue, so to a report Compiled by the General Counsel of the FEC.
The report found that documents associated with Tread Standard listed a Lennar employee and the company’s Miami address, prompting FEC attorneys to include in their official reports that the actual source of political donations was executives from Lennar, including Jon Jaffe, the company’s collaborator. CEO and President.
“All in all, the file on this case suggests that Tread Standard may not have been the true source of the funds it provided to the committee,” said the FEC General Counsel report. “Instead it appears to have been used as a channel, possibly by Jaffe or others at Lennar.”
Lennar spokeswoman Danielle Tocco told POLITICO on Thursday the company knew nothing about Tread Standard.
“Tread Standard is not a subsidiary of Lennar,” she said. “A list of all of our subsidiaries is filed each year with our annual report on Form 10-K with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Lennar is not familiar with the activities of these companies. “
The report by the FEC General Counsel said the post is likely to violate federal law that prohibits political “posting on someone else’s behalf.” It recommended that the FEC conduct further research to gather additional facts, which however never materialized.
“As you have seen, we actually did not start an investigation, although I think we should have,” said FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub in an interview on Wednesday. “People are creative when they try not to say who’s not behind the money. This is one of several techniques that have been used over the years. “
Weintraub voted for the post to violate federal election campaign finance law, but the GOP majority in the commission disagreed. In June 2018, Weintraub published her own justification in which she blew up the post.
“The Super PAC reported that the contribution was from the LLC, which belies the public’s interest in knowing who is trying to influence our elections.” She wrote back then. “For some of these transactions, we still don’t know the real source of the money. We may never find out. “
Florida’s Campaign Funding Act is separate from federal contributions, but says, “No person may make contributions, directly or indirectly, through or on behalf of another.”
“In Florida, it’s illegal to hide your identity while donating, but it’s rarely challenged because Florida allows corporate donations,” said Brice Barnes, a veteran Florida Democratic fundraiser. “You would have to prove that the mailbox company only exists to hide the donor.”
Tread Standard had never made a state contribution to Florida until it mailed a check for $ 50,000 to the Republican Party of Florida in November. Since then, it has made three separate contributions totaling $ 110,000 to the DeSantis Committee, according to campaign funding records.
Helen Aguirre Ferré, executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, who is also the political spokeswoman for DeSantis, did not return a request asking for comment as to whether she knew who was funding the Tread Standard contribution or whether there were concerns as to the money gave.
Lennar gives very few Florida posts under his company name. Since 2018, it has donated less than $ 75,000, very little of which went directly to candidates and none directly to DeSantis.