If report of DeSantis squeezing lobbyists for cash is true, it’s a stunning violation | Opinion

If it’s true that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ state employees — not his campaign staff — are soliciting donations from lobbyists for his presidential run, as is being reported, Florida is entering uncharted territory in unethical behavior.

NBC News published a story Thursday that said reporters had seen text messages from four DeSantis administration officials sent to Florida lobbyists requesting contributions to the governor’s campaign. The report said the texts included a link that appeared to track who was giving the money. The texts came from people directly in the governor’s office and leaders in state agencies.

This is troubling in so many ways, it’s hard to count.

First of all, the governor should be keeping his campaign — paid for by private donations — and his state staff — paid for by taxpayers — strictly apart. That has long been the norm and for very good reasons. It’s still unclear if what those staffers allegedly are doing is illegal, but the practice most certainly raises the question of whether the governor is wrongly using state resources.

And then there’s the issue of strong-arming lobbyists for cash when they probably make their living by being able to lobby at the state Capitol. Can you afford to say no when the guy asking for money holds your living his hands? Probably not. That, though, would amount to blackmail.

And don’t forget, the NBC story says the “donate” link appeared to be a way to keep track of who gives and who doesn’t. And, after Disney, we all know how DeSantis acts toward those he feels aren’t supporting him.

“What the f--- am I supposed to do?” one lobbyist told NBC. “I have a lot of business in front of the DeSantis administration.”

And if that weren’t all stunning on its own, the governor hasn’t yet signed the state budget. The budget contains funding for projects and programs that lobbyists spent all session making sure are there. Is DeSantis holding the budget hostage to get more campaign money? It’s hard not to wonder.

The DeSantis campaign said Thursday it had raised $8.2 million in the 24 hours after his initially botched announcement on Twitter that he was seeking the Republican nomination for president. That haul is being used as evidence that he is competitive with former President Donald Trump for the nomination. But if he’s raising the money through unscrupulous means, how real is that number?

If DeSantis’ administration is indeed squeezing lobbyists for campaign cash before signing the budget, and keeping track of who gives, that’s a massive violation of voter trust — and possibly a whole lot worse. And it’s all happening just as he’s trying to make the case that he’s fit to lead the nation.