- One of FL’s governor DeSantis’ Democratic opponents accused him of making appointments to State University boards conditional on donations for re-election of the campaign.
- Nikki Fried, the state’s agriculture commissioner, made the claim Tuesday night.
- The DeSantis campaign and the Florida University Systems press office did not return Insider’s requests for comment.
Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner for agriculture and a Democratic nominee for governor, has accused Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of trying to exploit campaign donations over members of Florida’s public university system boards.
Fried is the only Democrat to have won a nationwide election in Florida since 2018, and is one of three Democrats challenging DeSantis in next August’s primary election.
DeSantis is already considered a rising GOP star and candidate for the party’s presidential candidate in 2024 by some Republican insiders. He has been criticized by critics for appointing large donors to boards across the state’s university system and signed a controversial law on what he describes as “indoctrination” of students at public institutions of higher education, threatening to define campuses without sufficient “ideological diversity.”
“I do not know if this is so public. You should all know it,” Fried said at a virtual town hall event held Tuesday night by the United Faculty of Florida Union.
“Our current state-wide boards were required to make a $ 100,000 campaign contribution to Ron DeSantis,” she continued. “And if they did not give him the campaign contribution, they would not be reappointed to the boards. That’s what we’re dealing with here in the state of Florida with this governor.”
‘Stacked’ with donors
Her claim, first reported by Scott Powers of Florida Politics, goes beyond the otherwise common practice of appointing members of a public university board after donating to a winning candidate’s gubernatorial campaign.
It is perfectly legal for someone to donate tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars to an upcoming governor campaign and then receive an appointment to a state government, but threatening current board members over re-election donations is a far more serious accusation.
While Fred’s campaign declined to comment on how she heard about DeSantis’ alleged claim – referring to “a private conversation” – a campaign spokesman doubled the claim.
“DeSantis’ appointments are stacked with his biggest donors – and the boards are no different,” campaign spokesman Drew Godinich told Insider in an email. “DeSantis’ corruption knows no bounds – even when it means compromising with Florida’s schools.”
Neither the DeSantis campaign nor the University of Florida Communications Office returned insider requests for comment.
The executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, Helen Aguirre Ferré, rejected Fred’s claim.
“It’s a bald lie that’s on par with Fried’s course,” she told Florida Politics.
At least nine current board members across Florida’s university system have made donations to the DeSantis 2022 campaign or the state GOP, either in their own name, through their company or through a spouse, according to the state’s campaign accounts, which are available in a public database.
Representatives at the University of Florida’s communications office would not put Insider in touch with board members who have donated to DeSantis or the state GOP so far in this election cycle.
Among these trustees are Carlos Duart of Florida International University, University of Central Florida Bill Chrisite, Jeff Condello and Joe Conte, University of Florida Mori Hosseini, Richard Cole and Rahul Patel as well as University of South Florida Will Weatherford and Leslie Muma.
Muma’s wife donated $ 100,000 to the DeSantis campaign this year, while the minimum donation was $ 25,000 from Hosseini to the Florida GOP and Weatherford to DeSantis.
On Tuesday night’s virtual town hall, Fried promised to clear the boards of GOP campaign donors.
“While I will not be able to immediately fire them all,” she said, “when their reappointments come into play, I will certainly not reappoint the members of boards who are all campaign donors to the Republican Party.”