Florida Gov. DeSantis launches Freedom Fund, will fight abortion, marijuana measures

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is gearing up his fund-raising aimed at supporting favored candidates this fall and defeating ballot measures intended to preserve abortion access and legalize marijuana.

DeSantis recently opened a new Florida Freedom Fund political spending committee, chaired by James Uthmeier, the governor’s chief of staff who formerly served as the governor’s campaign manager during his unsuccessful run for president.

DeSantis’ federal political action committee, Never Back Down, spent more than $130 million on that White House run, which ended in January. Most of the cash came from money he’d raised in Florida through his Friends of Ron DeSantis political committee, which later was renamed Empower Parents.

The transfer was targeted as a violation of federal campaign finance laws in a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission by the Campaign Legal Center. The FEC has not yet acted on the charge.

Fund awaits donations, many from those tied to state

The Florida Freedom Fund, opened in May, will be the latest repository for DeSantis to collect unlimited donations from individuals and corporations, many with interests in state government.

As of May 31, it reported no contributions or spending.

“As Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to lead our great state, the Florida Freedom Fund will be championing issues and candidates committed to preserving Floridians freedom,” said Taryn Fenske, a DeSantis spokeswoman. “From up and down ballot races to critical amendments, we’re steadfast in our mission to keep Florida free.”

DeSantis has derided the Amendment 4 abortion measure and Amendment 3, which would make recreational marijuana legal in Florida. He called them “very, very extreme.”

The measures are set for the November ballot and need approval from at least 60% of voters to become part of the state's governing document.

Abortion measure would erase DeSantis' 6-week law

Amendment 4 would erase the restriction signed by DeSantis that prohibits most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

The ballot measure would allow abortions up to fetal viability, usually about 24 weeks of pregnancy, restoring a standard in place across the nation until the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs ruling that ended the constitutional right to abortion.

Amendment 4’s Floridians Protecting Freedom committee raised $11.8 million from April 1 through May 31, leaving it with $7.4 million cash-on-hand, according to state campaign finance records.

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Amendment 3’s Smart & Safe Florida committee reported raising $5.2 million in April and May, with most of the money coming from Trulieve, the Gadsden County-based firm that is one of the nation’s largest marijuana purveyors.

Trulieve is a major financier of the recreational marijuana effort, which has $13.6 million cash-on-hand, its report to the state shows.

DeSantis has promised to fight these measures. He’s also expected to get involved in school board races, like he did in 2022, when he endorsed 30 candidates, most of them winning.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis welcome the state's heroes to the Florida Governor's Mansion, April 26, 2024.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis welcome the state's heroes to the Florida Governor's Mansion, April 26, 2024.

DeSantis' earlier spending still troubles

DeSantis also has pledged to help former President Trump with fundraising for his presidential campaign.

The governor came out and immediately endorsed Trump after ending his own White House campaign, a stumbling and costly effort in which he was regularly ripped by his leading rival.

DeSantis’ Never Back Down presidential spending committee still had just under $7 million in the bank, according to federal filings at the end of March. It’s unclear whether the governor could attempt to regain these funds for state efforts.

Along with the complaint over the transfer of funds, the Campaign Legal Center also filed an FEC complaint last December accusing DeSantis of illegally coordinating his campaign with the Never Back Down super PAC. That complaint still is pending before the FEC.

John Kennedy is a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jkennedy2@gannett.com, or on X at @JKennedyReport.

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: DeSantis seeks money to fight abortion, marijuana on Florida ballot