Ron DeSantis, who is also widely believed to be eyeing a White House run, has raised nearly $30 million into his political committee. | Getty Images
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in recent months has received more than $100,000 from a mystery donor that federal regulators previously said was possibly set up illegally to mask the likely source of donors. But it remains unclear who is behind the Delaware-based entity or its political largesse.
The contribution to a DeSantis-controlled political committee comes as he has increased his fundraising efforts ahead of his 2022 re-election campaign. DeSantis, who is also widely believed to be eyeing a White House run, has raised nearly $30 million into his political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, since the start of the year.
Of that haul, $110,000 has come from Tread Standard, LLC, which was the subject of a Federal Election Commission complaint during the 2016 election cycle. The complaint, from American Democracy Legal Fund, which was run by a former DNC official, was filed after Tread Standard gave $150,000 to a super PAC supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s failed presidential bid.
The FEC general counsel’s office issued a report alleging the Tread Standard was likely set up to mask the “true source” of the contribution. It made no direct conclusions about who the donor is, but a general counsel’s report directly referenced Miami-based Lennar Corporation, one of the biggest home builders and development companies in the country.
Red flags were raised for FEC attorneys because the six-figure contribution to the super PAC supporting Bush was given less than two months after Tread Standard was incorporated in Delaware, and because there was no sign the entity did anything that generated its own revenue, according to a report put together by the FEC’s general counsel’s office.
The report found that documents tied to Tread Standard listed a Lennar employee and the company’s Miami address, which led FEC attorneys to include in its official reports that the actual source of the political contributions could be Lennar executives, including Jon Jaffe, the company’s co-CEO and president.
“On balance, the record in this case raises a reasonable inference that Tread Standard may not have been the true source of the funds that it gave to the committee,” read the FEC general counsel report. “Instead, it appears to have been used as a conduit, possibly by Jaffe or others at Lennar.”
Lennar spokesperson Danielle Tocco told POLITICO Thursday the company knows nothing about Tread Standard.
“Tread Standard is not a Lennar subsidiary,” she said. “A list of all our subsidiaries is filed every year with our annual report on Securities and Exchange Commission Form 10-K. Lennar is not familiar with the activities of these entities.”
The FEC general counsel’s report said the contribution likely violated federal law that prohibits political “contributions in the name of another.” It recommended the FEC investigate further to collect additional facts, which never occurred.
“As you saw, we did not in fact investigate even though I strongly think we should have,” FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said in an interview on Wednesday. “People are creative when trying to not tell who is not behind the money. This is one of a number of techniques used over the years.”
Weintraub voted in favor of finding the contribution violated federal campaign finance law, but the commission’s GOP majority did not agree. In June 2018, Weintraub issued her own Statement of Reason blasting the contribution.
“The Super PAC reported the contribution as coming from the LLC, defeating the public’s interest in knowing who seeks to influence our elections,” she wrote at the time. “For some of these transactions, we still do not know the true source of the money. We may never know.”
Florida campaign finance law is regulated separately from federal contributions, but does say “a person may not make any contribution through or in the name of another, directly or indirectly.”
“It’s illegal in Florida to hide your identity when you’re donating, but it’s rarely challenged because Florida does allow corporate giving,” said Brice Barnes, a veteran Florida Democratic fundraiser. “ You’d have to prove the shell company only exists to hide the donor.”
Tread Standard had never given a state-level Florida contribution until it sent a $50,000 check to the Republican Party of Florida in November. Since that time, it has given three separate contributions totaling $110,000 to DeSantis’ committee, according to campaign finance records.
Republican Party of Florida Executive Director Helen Aguirre Ferré, who is also the political spokesperson for DeSantis, did not return a request seeking comment about whether she knew who funded the Tread Standard contribution, or if there was any concern about the money.
Lennar gives very few Florida contributions under its corporate name. Since 2018, it has given less than $75,000, of which very little went directly to candidates, and none directly to DeSantis.
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