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DeSantis State Government Appointee Holds DeSantis Fundraiser in The Villages

A key Florida state government appointee of Ron DeSantis hosted a high-dollar fundraiser for the governor’s presidential campaign on Wednesday evening in The Villages, according to an invitation reviewed by The Intercept. The host, Gary Lester, is also a top executive at The Villages, a retirement community owned by a corporation with close ties to DeSantis.

Lester, in sending his invitation to the high-dollar affair being held at a secret location, used his Villages Inc. email and instructed attendees to RSVP to his Villages assistant. 

Lester was appointed by DeSantis last year to a five-year term on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Aside from the incongruity of putting an official from one of the state’s largest developers on an environmental conservation commission, the fundraiser hosted by Lester represents a further blending of official state business with campaign fundraising.

While DeSantis is presenting himself as capable of making good on his rival Donald Trump’s unfulfilled pledge to root out corruption in politics, DeSantis recently came under scrutiny when his administration was revealed to be pressuring state lobbyists to donate to his campaign. Ten Florida lobbyists told NBC News that at least four different DeSantis administration officials had been soliciting contributions from lobbyists with business before the governor and legislature, which some of them described as a “prisoner’s dilemma.” 

The DeSantis administration did not respond to a request for comment, but officials there have previously insisted that administration staff do not lose their First Amendment rights to donate to DeSantis and raise money for him, though ethics experts have highlighted the blurry lines and the risk of an appearance of corruption.

When DeSantis flew 48 Venezuelan asylum-seekers to Martha’s Vineyard last September, The Intercept reported that the flights had been contracted to an aviation firm with ties to top Florida GOP officials close to DeSantis. The firm, Vertol Systems, contributed to the campaigns of the Florida Legislature’s appropriations chief, who himself oversaw the budget containing the contract for the flights, as well as his DeSantis transportation-appointee father.

In January, The Intercept reported that Lester warned local county commissioners that if they bucked The Villages Inc. on a key tax break for further development, he could call DeSantis at any moment. “Just remember one thing,” Lester reportedly told one commissioner. “I’m a big person, you’re a little person. I can squash you anytime I want.” DeSantis eventually removed the commissioners from elected office, and they were prosecuted by a local Republican state attorney on extraordinarily dubious charges. Lester did not respond to a request for comment.

The invitation lists a dinner and VIP reception for two as costing $13,200. Couples who skipped the VIP portion and only attended the dinner got in for just $6,600 total.

“We didn’t drain it,” DeSantis said recently in New Hampshire, referring to Trump’s proverbial swamp. “It’s worse today than it’s ever been by far.” But it appears the only swamps being drained on DeSantis’s watch are ones that can be paved for development projects by his politically connected corporate allies. 

The post DeSantis State Government Appointee Holds DeSantis Fundraiser in The Villages appeared first on The Intercept.

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