Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s predilection for getting publicly spanked by a cartoon rodent, is well known. And if he can do it in court, so much the better! And this week, his supporters are also getting pantsed in court, although not by Mickey Mouse, so … not hot. But still very funny!
The case involves a PAC called “Ready for Ron” which looked at the wave of bigotry and retaliation DeSantis has released in Florida and said, “Hell, yes, let’s take this operation nationwide.” Toward that end, it circulated an online “petition” purporting to seek one million signatures for a movement to “draft” DeSantis for a presidential run.
Dear Governor DeSantis,
Please accept this petition to express the widespread public support to draft you to become, and remain, a candidate for the Republican nomination for President in the 2024 election and, when nominated, a candidate for the office of President of the United States.
All of the signatories below have virtually signed this Petition to demonstrate their support. They provided Ready for Ron with their names and contact information to convey to you as part of this petition on their behalf.
The emphasis on “names and contact information to convey to you” was no accident. Indeed, the entire purpose of this exercise appears to have been to generate a mailing list of potential donors for the all-but-announced DeSantis presidential campaign — it’s no mystery why Trump devotes at least half of his social media feed to attacking his former ally.
But mailing lists (like porn star hush money payoffs) are a thing of value far in excess of the $2,900 (now $3,300) contribution limit — particularly when they contain more than 200,000 names. Which is probably why the Ronosexuals sought to get their permission slip signed by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) before handing it over to their beloved future candidate.
In the event, the FEC demurred, with the panel unanimously agreeing that the “petition” was actually a mailing list and thus constituted an in-kind contribution to a political candidate, albeit one who hasn’t yet officially announced. But because Trump functionally broke the FEC, it was not able to issue an advisory opinion to the Ronettes saying “no, you can’t do that.”
In October of 2022, the I Love Ron Fan Club sued the FEC in federal court in DC, howling that the agency had “taken federal campaign finance law to an unconstitutional extreme” and was suppressing “literal, pure political speech,” by which they meant the expression of these potential donors to hand their contact information over to their patron Saint Ron. The Ronophiles made the bizarre argument that, because ActBlue and WinRed forward the contact information of donors to candidates without having to declare a contribution, they must also be able to collect and share info on potential donors. But US District Judge Randolph Moss was not convinced that a PAC and a payment processor are exactly the same thing.
In fact, the court gave short shrift to the entirety of the Ron 4 Lyfe squad’s argument.
“[T]he Court agrees with the Commission that what RFR calls a petition is, in fact, a contact list and, more importantly, an in-kind contribution,” the judge wrote. “As such, the list is subject to the contribution limits contained in the Federal Election Campaign Act (‘FECA’ or the ‘Act’), and it is now well-trod ground that those limits satisfy constitutional dictates.”
Similarly, the court was unimpressed with the DeSantistans argument that campaign finance limits don’t apply because their fancrush is still only exploring the idea of running:
By accepting the list, he would necessarily commit himself to either a candidacy or testing the waters, both of which require contributors (including in-kind contributors) to comply with FECA’s contribution limitations. To hold otherwise would invite massive evasion of the campaign finance laws by allowing those seeking office simply to wait to declare their candidacies or to invoke the testing-the-waters exception until after they have assembled war-chests of non-FECA-compliant contributions.
“Testing the waters does not mean that anything goes,” the court added, cautioning that to rule otherwise would allow candidates to circumvent the entire regulatory system by simply delaying their official entry into the race.
And so DeSantis will have to enter the race without the list, which is valued at somewhere south of $12,000. But at the moment he’s rather busy trying to figure out how to port $86 million leftover from his state campaign into an “independent” PAC.
Oh, Florida Man.
Ready For Ron v. FEC [Docket via Court Listener]