Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s wealthy donors and supporters lent a golf simulator to the Governor’s Mansion and provided private flights to fundraisers and other political events, according to records obtained by The Washington Post.

The golf simulator came from Mori Hosseini, a major home builder who chairs the University of Florida’s Board of Trustees and lent the device to the Governor’s Mansion in DeSantis’s first year in office, according to documents released to The Post in response to a public records request. DeSantis, an avid golfer, has made his “blue-collar” roots a key part of his appeal as a Republican candidate for president and has faced some criticism for his interactions with donors.

“This letter acknowledges that the Mansion Commission has received golf simulator equipment from Mori Hosseini to be possessed on loan at the Governor’s Mansion for an undisclosed term,” reads a 2019 letter to Hosseini from James Uthmeier, formerly a DeSantis lawyer and now his chief of staff. “This equipment will be stored within the Florida Governor’s Mansion gym and will be returned to you immediately upon request. I have reviewed and approved the circumstances of this loan to the Mansion Commission and verify that it is permissible in accordance with the Governor’s Ethics Code and Florida Statutory Code.”

DeSantis’s security cleared two employees of Ohio-based AboutGolf to enter the Governor’s Mansion in June 2019 to install the golf simulator, according to an email released to The Post. AboutGolf simulators that require installation are typically built to fit a specific space and start at $27,500, according to a listing by Precision Sports. Curved-screen versions start at $69,500. An executive at AboutGolf declined to comment for this article.

In an emailed statement, DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern said, “As with all donations, it was accepted and coordinated by staff and approved by legal counsel. Donations to the residence and grounds have been received over many administrations. It will remain in the state’s possession for the use of first families, their guests, and staff as it is now.”

The Florida Department of Management Services, which oversees the Governor’s Mansion, did not respond to emailed questions.

The Uthmeier letter did not explain the rationale for approving the loan of the golf simulator. The ethics manual of the Executive Office of the Governor says employees “may not accept a benefit of any sort when a reasonable observer could infer that the benefit was intended to influence a pending or future decision of the employee, or to reward a past decision.” But the Florida Ethics Commission has in the past evaluated the propriety of gifts that are made to government agencies with more nuance.

The Governor’s Mansion is overseen by an eight-member commission under the Department of Management Services. In a 2013 opinion, the state Ethics Commission said that when a public official “maintained control and access” over a donation it counted as an impermissible gift to the official, but where a governmental agency controlled the donation, it would be considered a permissible gift to that agency.

An Ethics Commission analysis would probably depend on who besides DeSantis had access to the golf simulator, according to Caroline Klancke, executive director of the not-for-profit Florida Ethics Institute and a former general counsel and deputy executive director of the Florida Ethics Commission.

“This would be ripe for their scrutiny if a complaint were to be filed,” Klancke said of the Ethics Commission. “I’m at a loss because it’s unusual.”

The Ethics Commission has no record of a request for a formal or informal opinion about the golf simulator, a spokeswoman said, and none of the complaints against DeSantis that the commission has received pertain to the golf simulator.

Disclosures obtained through Florida’s open-records laws also showed a treadmill donated on Jan. 1, 2023, for the “Governor’s Cabana,” where the golf simulator was located. The source of the treadmill was not named on the record released to The Post.

The exercise room and the cabana are among the “private areas” in the mansion used exclusively by the governor and his family, according to state records detailing the mansion’s layout and architecture.

In addition to the cabana furnishings, DeSantis has taken private flights on planes provided by donors, according to campaign finance disclosures and former aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Such political contributions are permitted under Florida law and must be disclosed.

Hosseini did not respond to a request for comment. According to campaign finance disclosures reviewed by The Post, Hosseini also lent DeSantis and his wife use of his private plane on at least 12 occasions, including as recently as February. In 2018, Hosseini took DeSantis to play at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia — which boasts an exclusive membership and is home to the storied Masters Tournament — according to internal memos reported by the Tampa Bay Times and Politico. DeSantis attended the Masters in 2019. In 2021, he appointed the Augusta club’s chairman, Fred Ridley, to join Hosseini on the university board.

This year, DeSantis set up his presidential bid by introducing himself as “blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth” — someone who “was given nothing” and “entitled to nothing.” “Ron DeSantis can’t be bought,” tweeted Dave Vasquez, a spokesman for the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down. The governor’s latest available personal financial disclosure showed a net worth of about $320,000.

In the 2022 campaign cycle, companies controlled by Hosseini gave at least $361,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC, a group supporting the governor’s reelection (since renamed Empower Parents PAC); the Republican Party of Florida; and the DeSantis gubernatorial campaign, according to state campaign finance records. In the 2018 campaign, Hosseini and his companies contributed at least $75,000 to the state party, and he co-chaired DeSantis’s gubernatorial transition team and the finance team of his inaugural committee.

DeSantis rarely, if ever, flies on commercial airlines, the people familiar with his travel said. Former aides said DeSantis typically preferred to travel without the owner present, but was briefed on who they were.

Hosseini heads ICI Homes, one of the state’s largest developers, and lives in Ormond Beach, near Daytona Beach. He was appointed to the University of Florida board in 2016 by then-Gov. Rick Scott (R) and elected chair in 2018. DeSantis renewed his appointment in 2021.

In that role, Hosseini was involved in controversial hires at the university including its new president, former Republican senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and physician Joseph Ladapo, a critic of coronavirus vaccines whose appointment to the medical school coincided with DeSantis’s naming him surgeon general.

Hosseini’s leadership also came under criticism in 2021 when University of Florida professors were blocked from testifying against the state in a legal challenge to new voting restrictions. The university president later relented, allowing the professors to testify as long as they did not use university time or resources. At the time, Hosseini denied that his relationship with DeSantis had any influence over the university’s decisions on professors’ outside activities.

“We and the administration absolutely support the First Amendment rights of our faculty and their academic freedom to teach, research, publish and exercise their rights as citizens,” Hosseini said at a public meeting. An accreditation body later concluded that the school responded appropriately.

In 2019, Florida first lady Casey DeSantis took a private jet owned by Hosseini to announce a mental health initiative outside Jacksonville, Politico reported. “I am doing everything that I can in accordance with the law,” she said at the time.

Ron DeSantis appears to have taken a private plane owned by one of Hosseini’s companies to a February fundraiser hosted by his PAC in Miami, according to flight-tracking data and campaign finance disclosures.

The plane flew from its home base in Daytona Beach to Naples, where DeSantis was giving a news conference on opposing investment decisions that take into account social and environmental impacts, according to his office. The state-owned plane that had taken DeSantis to Naples returned to Tallahassee, according to flight-tracking data, while the plane owned by a Hosseini company went on to Miami. DeSantis’s office has said he would use the state plane only for official business, not political purposes.

The flight was disclosed by DeSantis’s PAC. The PAC also reported spending $11,805.90 at the Dirty French Steakhouse in Miami that day, the kind of outlay typically associated with hosting a fundraiser. Later that night, Hosseini’s plane flew to Tallahassee, then returned to Daytona Beach, flight-tracking data shows.

Campaign finance disclosures for DeSantis’s PAC and campaign since 2021 show at least 50 more entries for in-kind contributions of transportation from companies that own private planes. Those donors included Maximo Alvarez, president of Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, which owns hundreds of gas stations in the state, and Aubrey Edge, president of First Coast Energy and owner of the Daily’s convenience store chain.

In November 2021, DeSantis spoke at a Daily’s location to announce plans for a gas tax holiday, drawing praise from Edge. Two months later, the governor’s administration met about the policy with industry lobbyists, including from Alvarez’s company, according to emails obtained by the Florida-based journalist Jason Garcia. Analysts said the resulting policy benefited suppliers more than consumers.

Alvarez and Edge did not respond to requests for comment.

Florida politicians have long used planes to get around a state that is 792 miles long from Pensacola to Key West. Several have faced criticism over the years for using state aircraft to travel home or to political events.

Soon after Scott was elected governor in 2010, he fulfilled a campaign promise by selling two state planes. The wealthy businessman used his own private jet while serving as governor.

“Burdening taxpayers with these ongoing expenses is irresponsible and not a core function for government to meet the state’s critical needs,” Scott said in a news release.

Scott’s decision saved money but resulted in less transparency; local newspapers reported that Scott blocked his official travel from appearing on aircraft tracking sites and did not respond to public records requests for his transportation costs.

When DeSantis was elected in 2018, he had planned to use a Beechcraft King Air plane that had been transferred from the U.S. military to the state and refurbished, according to news reports from the time that were confirmed by a person familiar with the arrangement. But after a mechanical problem forced the plane to make an emergency landing during his first week in office, the state bought a $15.5 million Cessna Citation Latitude business jet that was used almost exclusively by the governor and his family. In 2022, DeSantis vetoed $20 million budgeted to buy two aircraft for statewide Cabinet officers to use.

“It was the governor being very self-serving and wanting everything to be about him,” said former agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried, who now serves as chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party.

Now, DeSantis’s travel records, including those from past trips, are exempt from public records requests, under a law he signed in May, citing security concerns.

Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.

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