Many of us give what we can to support our favorite causes and candidates, be it $10 or $100. A few people with very deep pockets give hundreds of thousands, even millions, to candidates that they hope will further a cause or platform that they agree with, be it saving the environment or stopping abortion. The law allows unlimited donations to Political Action Committees (PACs), even if the PAC has only one primary beneficiary. If a donor is aiming to put like-minded people in office, their big donation is legal. But what about huge donations that might be less philosophical and more “influence buying”?
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis gave exclusive distribution for the COVID vaccine rollout to the pharmacies at Publix Supermarkets in early January. Granted, Publix has over 700 locations throughout the state, but well-known and trusted brands like Walgreens have over 800 shops so the governor’s choice to use a single provider raised eyebrows from the start. Then, the year-end reports from the Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC were filed as required with regulators. The reports showed that just weeks before the governor’s decision on the vaccine distribution, Publix made four separate donations to his PAC totaling $100,000. As expected, spokespersons for both the governor and Publix denied any nefarious intentions, but as Florida was at the winter peak of COVID and people were limiting their outings, driving a million seniors into their stores didn’t hurt business. In addition, Medicare was paying the pharmacy $28 per vaccination, so if that $100,000 donation was more of an investment, it had a good rate of return.
The vaccine rollout was a disaster, and DeSantis began doing frequent press conferences across the state at “the Publix of the day” to do damage control. By mid-February, the CDC began the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, making vaccinations more readily available at a variety of pharmacy chain stores. FEMA even set up mass sites in Florida to provide easier access for the shots. Once Floridians had a variety of options provided by the federal government, in addition to Publix, DeSantis barely mentioned vaccines and refocused his messaging.
The governor pivoted to pandering to his base rather than projecting a unified approach to combating a pandemic. He went to war with the CDC and cruise lines to prevent them from requiring that passengers be vaccinated to sail. He signed edicts preventing local municipalities from enforcing any COVID precautions and banned school boards from protecting their students and staff. He tried to discredit experts and mocked science. It’s almost like he wanted Floridians to fall ill — and the more virulent Delta strain made that happen.
By mid-summer 2021, Florida was leading the nation in daily COVID cases but a therapeutic treatment from Regeneron, which HHS had purchased, was coming close to an expanded use authorization by the FDA. The governor now had a new approach to COVID. Rather than encouraging vaccinations, masks or social distancing to prevent Floridians from becoming ill, he barnstormed the state, opening clinics and offering free treatments (at an estimated cost of $1,000–$1,800) for all of those he encouraged to get sick. He had the state’s Surgeon General waive the requirement for a prescription and then handed out no-bid contracts for the set up of treatment facilities.
It’s always hard to know a person’s motivations. It could be the news of hospitals prepping portable morgue units outside Florida facilities that made the governor worry that his demonizing health care experts and discouraging his faithful followers from getting vaccinated might poorly reflect on his leadership skills. Or just maybe it was something equally pathetic but far more lucrative for a politician with his eyes on the White House.
As the Regeneron clinics were rolled out with massive fanfare, many journalists began to look deeper to explain DeSantis’s sudden respect for science, and there it was, again. Ken Griffin, a Chicago-based hedge fund manager who owns 85% of Citadel, LLC had made a $5 million donation to Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC this April 30. And Citadel owns $15.9 million in Regeneron stock. Coincidence? Maybe, but in just three months, Regeneron’s price increase has covered the “donation.” And, if Florida depletes the federal government’s supply of the product, it would open the door to future orders which would result in continued profits for the company and its stockholders.
Once again, the governor’s office was appalled at the suggestion of any influence the donation might have had, but DeSantis’ total dismissal of the readily accessible preventative measures has few logical explanations. So is this pay-to-play? Or is this a politician with his eyes on the White House, so busy pandering to his base that he didn’t notice his pandemic strategy was leading to rising death counts? We most likely will never know the truth.
Pay-to-play or pandering — either way, Governor DeSantis has failed Florida.
For more information on getting your vaccine, go to: https://www.vaccines.gov/
For more information on monoclonal antibody treatments available in Florida go to: https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/treatment/new-treatments/
DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.