- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2022

A group laboring to draft Ron DeSantis for a presidential run in 2024 is building a valuable contact list that the Florida governor could mine for donations.

The only problem is it may not be legal.

The Federal Election Commission is deadlocked on whether the Ready for Ron political action committee can give the Florida governor a list of emails and phone numbers it has been collecting since May in hopes of persuading Mr. DeSantis to launch a campaign for the White House.

The FEC left the matter in legal limbo when commissioners voted 3-3 this month on whether Ready for Ron can provide the list to Mr. DeSantis, either before or after he considers his candidacy.

The group likens itself to Ready for Hillary, a political action committee that raised money before Hillary Clinton announced her decision to run for president in 2016. Mrs. Clinton obtained access to the donor list “Ready for Hillary” compiled and, under the law, was supposed to pay fair market value. Politico reported at the time that an anonymous Democratic source said the Clinton campaign obtained the list “through a swap with another independent group.”

Unlike the Clinton model, Ready for Ron wants to directly give Mr. DeSantis a free list of potential donors. The group describes it as a petition urging Mr. DeSantis to run and not a mailing list.

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The group said it can provide the list at no cost because Mr. DeSantis has not given any official indication that he is “testing the waters,” an FEC term describing preliminary steps before a candidate makes a decision.

The PAC is collecting about 1,000 contacts a day and is on track to acquire 60,000 signatures, accompanied by emails and phone numbers, by the end of September, said Dan Backer, a legal adviser to Ready for Ron.

The goal is to collect 1 million contacts and give Mr. DeSantis a list big enough to persuade him to run for president, even while former President Donald Trump’s potential White House run looms over the political landscape.

“We want to build a grassroots movement that is telling him, ‘Hey, we want you to run for president. You’re the guy to beat Biden,’” Mr. Backer told The Washington Times.

Mr. DeSantis has become a national political figure by advancing a conservative agenda in Florida while bucking far-left policies of the Biden administration and congressional Democrats, most prominently pandemic-related mandates and lockdowns. 

A USA Today/Suffolk poll last week showed Mr. DeSantis leading Mr. Trump among Florida voters 48% to 40% in a hypothetical primary matchup. That was a massive swing in public opinion from January, when Mr. Trump led Mr. DeSantis among Florida voters 47% to 40%.

Mr. Trump also lives in Florida.

For now, Mr. DeSantis is running for a second term as governor. He leads his Democratic opponent, Rep. Charlie Crist, by about 7 percentage points in recent polls.

His campaign said it is not affiliated with Ready for Ron and none of the money donated to the PAC is given to Mr. DeSantis

Mr. Trump has not declared whether he will run a third time for the White House but hints regularly that he will be a candidate. 

In a sign he considers Mr. DeSantis a threat, Mr. Trump has derided the governor privately from his Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach. 

Democrats are worried about Mr. DeSantis and his 2024 ambitions.

President Biden, who lost Florida in the 2020 election, was scheduled to hold a rally there this week to denounce Mr. DeSantis as an “extremist” Republican. The event has been postponed because of a hurricane forecast. 

A YouGov poll released at the end of August found Mr. DeSantis tied with Mr. Biden in a hypothetical national matchup. 

Mr. Backer said he thinks the three Democrats on the FEC want to stand in the way of Ready for Ron to block Mr. DeSantis from becoming a threat to Mr. Biden. 

Lisa J. Stevenson, acting general counsel for the FEC, told the commission that Ready for Ron “may not provide Gov. DeSantis with the list of over 58,000 signatories’ names and contact information because the value of the list would exceed the [$2,900] contribution limits of the act and commission regulations.”

The FEC is expected to meet again in the coming weeks to consider more narrowly whether Ready for Ron can provide the list before Mr. DeSantis is officially “testing the waters” of a presidential run through an exploratory committee or other means. 

As long as the FEC remains deadlocked, it cannot easily take action against Ready for Ron for turning over the list to Mr. DeSantis at some point before he becomes a presidential candidate. 

Hans von Spakovsky, a former FEC commissioner who is now a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the law is vague about the value to those who have not declared candidacy for office and who have not taken formal exploratory action.

“I don’t fault the commissioners for not being able to decide on this because the law really is murky,” Mr. von Spakovsky said. “There are no hard and fast rules on this.”

Mr. Backer said Ready for Ron will continue to build the list through television and online advertising and plans to roll out in the next few weeks a plan to build a national volunteer network of people for a campaign infrastructure in every state if Mr. DeSantis decides to run.

“Look at Florida and how great things are here. Look at this guy’s record,” Mr. Backer said. “And you know what? This is the guy that’s going to be able to beat Biden. He is our guy.”

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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