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David Sirota: Florida Lawmakers Help Ron DeSantis Shovel More Cash to Wall Street

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David Sirota of The Lever talks about how Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s fundraising for his 2024 presidential bid could be hindered by a federal pay-to-play rule that restricts campaign contributions from financial executives to state officials who control pension investment decisions.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about your piece on Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis — right? — the Florida governor, headlined “Florida Lawmakers Help DeSantis Shovel More Cash To Wall Street,” in which you report how DeSantis’s fundraising for his 2024 presidential bid could be hindered by a federal pay-to-play rule that restricts campaign contributions from financial executives to state officials who control pension investment decisions. Explain.

DAVID SIROTA: Ron DeSantis, as the governor, is one of three people who control Florida’s massive public employee pension system. About 10, 15 years ago, an anti-corruption law was passed, in the wake of corruption scandals at pension systems, which said, basically, that the financial managers who are given money to manage by public officials, to manage those moneys on behalf of retirees, they cannot give money to politicians who control that money, because the decisions about who gets to invest those moneys need to be made based purely on merit, not on political influence.

As we report at The Lever — and folks can find at LeverNews.com — our story shows that DeSantis — under DeSantis, Florida pension money was moved to various financial firms whose executives were giving money to political groups that ultimately ended up boosting Ron DeSantis’s political campaigns. Now, there’s a question about whether they used intermediary groups to try to get around that very clear anti-corruption law.

But, moving forward, as DeSantis tries to raise money for his presidential campaign, this anti-corruption law is there to make sure that financial managers benefiting from his decisions and how he apportions the retirement funding for teachers, firefighters, other public employees, that that rule is there to try to make sure that he doesn’t use that leverage, he’s not able to use that leverage, to raise money from the financial firms that could get that money and earn big fees off that money. So, it could provide a very serious obstacle for DeSantis to raise lots of money, if the law — and it’s a big “if” — if that law is enforced.

AMY GOODMAN: You say this isn’t a theoretical problem. About a decade ago, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who’s running again, throwing his hat in the ring for president this week, as well as Texas Governor Rick Perry, both faced the same fundraising obstacle with their own GOP presidential campaigns. Quoting a Christie top adviser admitting, “There is no way around it. There are no loopholes.”

DAVID SIROTA: Yeah. Look, it’s a very, very clear law. And let’s be clear about how it works. It’s designed to deter the financial managers from giving the money, because the financial managers are the ones who can get punished. If you give money, if you’re a giant private equity firm and you give money to — your executives give money to Ron DeSantis, and the Florida pension fund is giving you money to manage, the law can basically say, “You can’t manage that money anymore.” So, it creates a financial deterrent to Wall Street firms to engage in that kind of financial fundraising for political candidates.

So, yes, it could be a huge obstacle for DeSantis. But again, I go back to the “if.” Will the Biden administration’s Securities and Exchange Commission actually enforce this law? Will the law actually be taken seriously by regulators? Will the law be applied to super PACs, some of which seem designed to get around these kinds of laws? That’s the big question for campaign finance here right now.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, David Sirota, as many Republican presidential candidates throw their hat in the ring, from South Carolina’s Tim Scott, as well as Nikki Haley, to Chris Christie, to the North Carolina — to the North Dakota governor and, of course, DeSantis, if you can talk about — and Vice President Pence this week — what you’re watching?

DAVID SIROTA: Well, look, I think the Republican primary is going to be, essentially, an arms race for how extreme each candidate can try to position themselves. They’re going to be in a battle to show who’s more extreme on immigration, who’s more extreme on budget cutting, who’s more extreme on trying to push for larger Pentagon budgets and the like. So, I think watching that and seeing how extreme it gets is going to be important.

I also think, on the Democratic side, seeing whether the party is going to pursue an agenda which says, “We are a party that is going to deliver for the working class,” or whether the party is going to try to position itself in much the way you heard Joe Biden try to — starting to try to position himself, as a, quote-unquote, “bipartisan conciliator.”

My view is, is that the Democratic Party has a very, very serious risk in this election if it is not constantly showing that it is delivering for the working class, if it is trying to only show that it wants to work with Republicans, instead of saying, “Our agenda is to deliver real material gains for the working class.” If the party’s agenda is not that, if it is more of a bipartisan conciliation message, I think that puts at risk in a very real way the 2024 election.

AMY GOODMAN: David Sirota, award-winning investigative journalist and founder of the news website The Lever. We’ll link to your pieces, “This Is What Biden Says Is A 'Big Win,'” as well as your piece on Ron DeSantis and Wall Street.

Coming up, we continue our conversation with a father who’s spent 20 years trying to hold the billionaire Sackler family accountable for its role in the opioid epidemic and the death of his 18-year-old son. Back in 30 seconds.

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