FISCAL IRRESPONSIBILITY: Gov. Ron DeSantis spent HOW MUCH taxpayer money on this?

FISCAL IRRESPONSIBILITY: Gov. Ron DeSantis spent HOW MUCH taxpayer money on this?

Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) spent $123 million on legal contracts in his first term to help the GOP-led state defend itself against lawsuits in its increasingly expensive culture wars.

Most of the firms contracted have close ties with either the governor or conservative-approved candidates.

The law firm Rumberger, Kirk, and Caldwell – one of Orlando’s largest – received over $9 million dollars to fight a challenge to the state’s use of solitary confinement after donating $1000 to the 2018 campaign of current Attorney General Ashley Moody.

“That contract alone made Rumberger Kirk rank as the highest paid firm on the list,” according to Daily Business Review.

By comparison, the Orlando-based firm received only $30,000 in contracts during DeSantis’s predecessor, Rick Scott’s (R), second term as governor.

Rumberger came under fire during a messy split with several attorneys at its firm in the 1990s over disagreements in how the firm’s pension plan was run – amid accusations of withholding large sums of money from departing lawyers.

During Scott’s last term as Florida’s head of state, the current U.S. Senator’s administration spent roughly $86 million on attorneys – bringing the two-term total between both administrations to over $200 million.

The law firm GrayRobinson – also based in Orlando – saw their contracts more than double between the Scott and DeSantis administrations.

Scott paid over $1.2 million to GrayRobinson to fight the Department of Justice, while DeSantis has awarded more than $2.6 million.

This includes $825,000 to help the governor fight a challenge to a law requiring public universities to conduct surveys on faculty and students’ political leanings.

During the 2022 election cycle, GrayRobinson increased its donations to Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, AG Moody, and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ reelection campaign for a total of $13,000.

Not a bad return on investment.

Miami-based Shutts & Bowen secured at least $9 million between both administrations – receiving $4 million in contracts under Scott, and $5.1 million under DeSantis.

Shutts & Bowen has given to Attorney Generals and CFO candidates during the Scott and DeSantis regimes. One contract, worth $2 million alone, was for help related to the Agency for Health Care Administration, DBR reported.

While details of the exact work Shutts & Bowen handled for either administration are vague, the firm lists the Agency for Health Care Administration as a client on its website, saying “Our team has been retained to handle Medicare audits, licensure issues, disciplinary actions, insurance, peer reviews, and other matters.”

Several other firms received six and seven-figure payouts during DeSantis’ freshman term as governor.

West Palm Beach-based Gunster donated $3,000 each to AG Moody and CFO Patronis in 2018 – nearly doubling the money given to Moody during the 2022 election cycle.

Gunster received $600,000 for defense in the state’s case against a student who filed a complaint against Miami-Dade College for charging students on-campus service fees despite the school being almost completely virtual due to the pandemic.

That’s over half of the $1.5 million Gunster received in total contracts.

Gov. DeSantis’ former employer – law firm Holland & Knight – more than doubled their take during the first two years of DeSantis’ administration, paying around $1.7 million to help with the state with their undemocratic requirement of felons to pay all outstanding fees before being given back the right to vote – despite the majority of Floridians voting to restore the franchisement rights of felons who served their time.

Nearly half a million dollars was paid to Holland in a challenge to DeSantis’ anti-riot bill.

Rounding out the firms with the most lucrative contracts are the D.C. firms Cooper & Kirk, and Holtzman Vogel – which received $5.3 million and $3.3 million, respectively.

The overlap between contracts awarded within the eight years comprising Sen. Rick Scott’s final term as governor, and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ first term – coupled with donation patterns – certainly raises questions of ethics and conflict of interest.

The DeSantis administration has been less than transparent about how it’s spending Florida taxpayer money – to whom it’s going, and why.

It’s high time that the governor’s constituents know exactly how much DeSantis’ culture wars and frivolous legislation is costing a state still recovering from recent devastation from back-to-back hurricanes that have displaced a significant portion of the population.

Original reporting by Alexander Lugo at Daily Business Review. 

Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick

Ty Ross

News journalist for Washington Press and Occupy Democrats.