DeSantis responds to Trump group’s claim he’s running ‘shadow’ 2024 campaign

A Donald Trump-aligned political group on Wednesday said it filed a complaint with the Florida Commission of Ethics accusing Gov. Ron DeSantis of abusing his office to mount a "shadow presidential campaign" — which DeSantis' team dismissed as a "frivolous" claim.

DeSantis, the popular and polarizing governor of a former swing state that has shifted bright red, is seen by many as Trump's biggest potential challenger for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

While DeSantis is publicly playing down the discussion of his White House ambitions, ABC News has confirmed that he's privately indicated to allies that he intends to launch a campaign.

DeSantis' team has been working under the assumption that an announcement would come following the end of the Florida legislative session in May or in June, sources told ABC News. However, the exact timing has not been nailed down.

In recent months, DeSantis has also become a major target of Trump and some Trump allies.

The Wednesday complaint, from Trump super PAC Make America Great Again Inc., asks the state ethics commission to examine DeSantis in light of the political action committees supporting him, his book tour pegged to a new memoir and what the complaint describes as his personal gains, misuse of his office and unacceptable receipt of gifts — which the complaint links to support by outside political groups — among other wrongful benefits.

The letter calls DeSantis a "de facto candidate" for president of the United States.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to Iowa voters gathered at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, March 10, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.Scott Olson/Getty Images

Make America Great Again Inc., a political action committee that can campaign for Trump but not coordinate with him, is arguing that DeSantis is taking the steps to be a presidential candidate despite not announcing an official presidential run.

The complaint alleges that DeSantis' political activities and work with the outside groups knowingly influence how he will act under Florida's resign-to-run law, which would require him to step down from his current office if he seeks an office out of state.

"[H]e is receiving gifts with the understanding that they will influence his official judgment" to ultimately run for president, the complaint claims.

In a statement to ABC News, DeSantis' communications director, Taryn Fenske, said they are "adding this to the list of frivolous and politically motivated attacks."

"It's inappropriate to use state ethics complaints for partisan purposes," Fenske said.

One of the PACs mentioned in the complaint is the recently formed Never Back Down PAC, created by Ken Cuccinelli, a former Department of Homeland Security official under Trump and a former attorney general of Virginia.

Cuccinelli released a statement following the complaint's release, saying that "the President Trump [he] knew would never have played these types of establishment games."

"The overwhelming response we've received to building a DeSantis grassroots effort is exciting – and I'm sure intimidating. No wonder the folks on that campaign are nervous. They should be. The MAGA movement is excited to look to its next chapter and future conservative leadership. They are excited at the potential of a President Ron DeSantis," Cuccinelli said.

Former President Donald Trump arrives for an event at the Adler Theatre, March 13, 2023, in Davenport, Iowa.Scott Olson/Getty Images

Trump has ramped up his attacks on the governor over the past couple of months, recently telling Politico he regrets endorsing DeSantis during DeSantis' 2018 gubernatorial campaign.

Although Make America Great Again Inc. said they filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics, Lynn Blais, a spokesperson for the commission, told ABC News they cannot confirm or deny the existence of a complaint.

MORE: The external campaign grows for a DeSantis 2024 bid

Blais said there is no set timeframe for a decision being made on a complaint and that the commission meets every six to eight weeks.

"There's so many variables related to investigations," Blais said.

Of the nine members of the commission, five were appointed by DeSantis, including Glenton Gilzean, the chair.


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