WLRN by Jessica Bakeman & Daniel Rivero
May 6, 2021
One of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ biggest legislative priorities officially became law Thursday morning, when the Republican signed a bill that will create more hurdles for voters in Florida.
The signing would have drawn enough attention, due to the controversial nature of the law — there are already two lawsuits calling the measure unconstitutional — but how and where DeSantis signed the bill has also drawn sharp criticism and questions over transparency.
DeSantis signed the bill on the Fox News show “Fox & Friends” during an event in West Palm Beach. Supporters were packed into the Hilton Airport Hotel wearing stickers in support of the governor’s 2022 reelection campaign. Some also wore T-shirts promoting a Trump-DeSantis ticket for the White House in 2024.
The governor’s office did not respond to an email from WLRN inquiring about the logistics of the event — chiefly who paid for the venue and the staffing. Government employees are not allowed to participate in political or campaign events on taxpayers’ dime.
“Even if no one was on the clock, it was a bill signing,” said Juan-Carlos Planas, an election and ethics attorney who is also a former Republican state representative from Miami. “The governor was on the clock. Even if the staffers were not, the governor was performing an official duty.
“I don’t think there’s any way around the fact that this is an official government event that was treated like a reelection campaign.”
Advocates for open government also raised concerns that the event violated First Amendment and Sunshine Law protections.