Corporate sponsors – including the Florida Realtors, the Gray Robinson law firm, and the Development Corp. for Israel – contributed more than $311,000 to pay for the recent trip by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet to Israel.
The money helped cover travel for staff of Enterprise Florida – the state business development arm that oversaw planning for the trip – and also for members of the Cabinet and aides to the governor, according to a document the agency released Friday.
The public picked up a little more than $29,000 toward travel costs for Enterprise Florida staff, paired with $9,166 in private money. State officials have yet to release the full cost of sending the state officials overseas in May, but the document says private donors contributed $22,245 toward travel for the Executive Office of the Governor and $10,596 for Cabinet agencies.
That’s “not that much in the scheme of things, so I’ll leave it to others to judge whether taxpayers got their money’s worth when it comes to the results of the trip and the benefits it will bring to Florida’s economy,” Ben Wilcox of Integrity Florida, said via email. His organization advocates for government transparency and accountability.
Such gifts are not illegal, but perhaps are untoward, Wilcox said. “The sponsorships that include a dinner and a reception paid for by lobby firms allow those firms to buy access and influence with our top statewide elected officials. That certainly does not look good to the public. It’s a form of legal corruption and speaks to the need for lobby reform.”
The governor’s office didn’t comment on the numbers, but has argued the trip cemented sentimental ties between Florida and Israel and also produced business deals.
“Trade missions provide an opportunity to promote Florida’s business advantages, assist exporters in meeting clients, and identify and attract foreign direct investment. Governor-led missions target markets where a significant opportunity exists to expand Florida’s economy,” Enterprise Florida argued in the document.
Also contributing financially were the Greenberg Traurig law firm; Duty Free Americas; Visit Florida, the state’s tourism development agency; the Becker & Poliakoff law firm; MCNA Dental; GOP donors Lothar & Caryln Mayer; dairy magnate Marc Goldman; tech company Geeks and Nerds; and Tellus LLC, a health care corporation.
Registration fees paid by the 98 listed delegates – the document now says the actual number topped 100 – amounted to $71,500. The delegates included state legislators, business people, academics, religious figures, and lots of lobbyists.
Press traveling with the governor paid $7,500 in registration fees. Sponsorships recouped another $47,500.
The private money also covered events and receptions during the week DeSantis and the elected Florida Cabinet spent in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in late May, plus transportation and security, photographer fees, and gifts. All three Cabinet members made the trip – Attorney General Ashley Moody, Commissioner of Agriculture & Consumer Services Nikki Fried; and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.