On live televisionÂ in two Florida gubernatorial debates, Democrat Andrew Gillum has hammered Republican Ron DeSantis for not releasing detailed receipts showingÂ how he used more than $145,000 in taxpayer money for travel during his nearly six years in Congress.
It was new ammunition for Gillum, who has been dogged by DeSantisÂ about Broadway play tickets he took from an undercover FBI agent posing as a developer and personal trips he took to New York City and Costa Rica with his former friend Adam Corey, a lobbyist. The 2016 trips are under investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics and the FBI agent was gathering evidence in a federal public corruption investigation.
Gillum has said he is not the subject of the federal investigation, and he has countered with concerns that DeSantis isn’t being transparent about how he used his congressional office.
â€œWhat happened to the $145,000 in receipts of public taxpayer money that he has yet to reveal?â€ Gillum said Wednesday night.
He wasÂ referring to a USA TODAY NETWORK â€” Florida report published last week detailing how DeSantisÂ has refused to provide detailed receipts of his tax-funded congressional trips. Â At least two of those trips were to New York to appear on Fox News, the campaign acknowledged after a reporter provided evidence of that travel.
A link has been posted to your Facebook feed.
Wilfredo Lee, AP John Raoux, AP Jody Linkfirstname.lastname@example.org J. Scott Applewhite, AP
- 1 of 31
- 2 of 31
- 3 of 31
- 4 of 31
- 5 of 31
- 6 of 31
- 7 of 31
- 8 of 31
- 9 of 31
- 10 of 31
- 11 of 31
- 12 of 31
- 13 of 31
- 14 of 31
- 15 of 31
- 16 of 31
- 17 of 31
- 18 of 31
- 19 of 31
- 20 of 31
- 21 of 31
- 22 of 31
- 23 of 31
- 24 of 31
- 25 of 31
- 26 of 31
- 27 of 31
- 28 of 31
- 29 of 31
- 30 of 31
- 31 of 31
Midterms: Democrats poised to win governorships in election that will affect redistricting, presidential campaign
More: Former President Barack Obama endorses 260 additional Democratic candidates
DeSantis, who in Congress argued that his fellow members should have to follow the same laws as the public, doesn’t have to release details of his use of tax money because Congress doesn’t have to follow the federal public records law.
HeÂ has declined USA TODAY NETWORK’s requests for more than a monthÂ to release detailed receipts that would show when, where and with whom he traveled, whether he traveled by plane or train, and first class or coach.Â Â
â€œBoth Andrew and I have received money to travel with the federal government,” DeSantis said during Wednesday night’s debate with Gillum. “The difference is I received my money legally and through my congressional office to travel from Florida to Washington and back again for two years, twice a week.â€
President Donald Trump is expected to attend a rally at Hertz Arena in Estero on Halloween, Oct. 31, 2018, to support Ron DeSantis.
Kinfay Moroti, KMOROTI@NEWS-PRESS.COM
In the broad line items DeSantis publicly disclosed when using the annual allocation known as the Membersâ€™ Representation Allowance, there were 71 â€œcommercial transportationâ€ expenses reported for the six years he served in Congress. The most expensive â€œcommercial transportationâ€ expense covered a 60-day period for $8,395, which could have covered a few first-class flights anywhere in the country or a dozen $700 trips back and forth from his district and office.
Without documents detailing how he spent the money, itâ€™s hard to say how he traveled. But DeSantis did spend tax money on travel other than back and forth to his district.
His general expense reports show that he spent more than $1,000 on seven hotel stays since 2013, suggesting he was neither at his home in his district nor at his office in Washington. At least two of those hotel stays were expensesÂ when he took two trips to New York before making Fox News appearances, for example. But without receipts, itâ€™s unclear where he stayed on those trips.
More: Ground game: Democrats spend big to mobilize voters; GOP attacks Andrew Gillum’s record
More: DeSantis gets gambling money in Florida governor’s race but won’t discuss gaming views
When challenged during the debates on this matter, DeSantis fought back and pointed to other members of the Florida delegation.
â€œSix years of congressional travel, every single member of Florida does the same thing. One hundred percent legal. I followed the law,â€ DeSantis said.
It is legal for members of Congress to use tax money for travel. However, DeSantis is not being transparent and is using a special consideration given to Congress that allows him to withhold what would be public records if he were in any other elected position. He does not have to release his office documents detailing travel, unlike Gillum, who released more than 800 pages in compliance with Florida’s public records law.Â
“We know he used some of that money to travel to go to Fox News to run his campaign for governor,â€ Gillum said in one debate, making an assertion that is not known to be fact.
Republican Ron DeSantis will face Democrat Andrew Gillum in Florida’s race for governor.
DeSantis did use tax money to travel to New York to appear on Fox News, a network that helped increased his public profile in his run for governor. ButÂ the appearances he made at taxpayers’ expense occurred inÂ July 2017 and October 2017, months before he announced he was a candidate for governor. On those shows, he talked about congressional matters, such as the Trump-Russia investigation and North Korea tensions. He did not talk about his political endeavors, according to transcripts from the shows.
As the subject of these receipts adds tension to the race for governor with less than two weeks before the Nov. 6 election, DemocratsÂ also are throwing attacks that distort the facts of what DeSantis has done regarding his tax-funded travel.
Democrats have said DeSantisÂ â€œabused congressional travel moneyâ€ when making the trips for the Fox appearances. But members of Congress are allowed to use tax money to make media appearances in their official capacity if that is their â€œprimary purpose of travel,â€ according to Courtney Parella, a spokeswoman for the Committee on House Administration.
More: Florida’s Ron DeSantis spoke to group whose founder says devout Muslims can’t be loyal Americans
More: Andrew Gillum leads Ron DeSantis for Florida governor, says Chamber of Commerce poll
Follow Ana Ceballos on Twitter:Â @anaceballos_