‘Ready for Ron’ Florida campaign group sues in petition dispute

Ron DeSantis in Sanibel Island (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A political committee trying to draft Gov. Ron DeSantis to run for president in 2024 has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission in a dispute about a petition with more than 80,000 signatures.

The Miami-based “Ready for Ron” committee alleges that a commission advisory opinion violates the First Amendment by preventing it from providing the petition to DeSantis.

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The Sept. 28 advisory opinion said that providing the petition while DeSantis is “testing the waters” for a presidential run or after he becomes a candidate would violate a campaign-contribution limit because of the value of the information. The opinion did not reach a conclusion about whether the petition could be provided to DeSantis before he enters what is known under federal regulations as a “testing the waters” period.

The Ready for Ron lawsuit, filed last week in federal court in Washington, D.C., accused the commission of taking “federal campaign finance law to an unconstitutional extreme.”

“A signed political petition is pure political speech,” the 42-page lawsuit said. “The federal government may neither prevent a draft committee from soliciting and gathering signatories’ names and contact information to attempt to persuade someone to run for office or remain a candidate for office, nor bar a potential candidate’s supporters from associating together to express their political support for that person by providing their names and contact information.”

While the commission did not reach a conclusion on providing the petition before DeSantis might test the waters, the lawsuit indicated the committee is concerned it could face civil penalties or criminal prosecution if it provides the petition during that time.

DeSantis, who is running for re-election for governor Tuesday, is widely viewed as a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate. But he has been coy about the issue and has not taken the “testing the waters” step, which would include complying with federal campaign-contribution regulations while doing such things as polling and traveling.

In the advisory opinion, the commission said that Ready for Ron would violate a $2,900 contribution limit if it provided the petition with names and contact information of people who signed it.

“The contact information in R4R’s (Ready for Ron’s) petition would be of significant value to Governor DeSantis not only because of its expensive development costs, but also because it exclusively includes persons who are advocating in favor of Governor DeSantis running for president,” part of the advisory opinion said. “Accordingly, R4R may not provide the contact information to Governor DeSantis without charge if and when he becomes a federal candidate because the value of the information would exceed the contribution limits.”

The lawsuit said Ready for Ron, which longtime Republican operative and presidential adviser Ed Rollins helped launch, has spent $25,000 to $50,000 a week on ads and plans to continue through the 2024 election.

“Under the First Amendment, the commission may not bar RFR from providing a petition to Governor DeSantis encouraging him to run for president, simply because it contains the names and addresses of its signatories,” the lawsuit said. “Federal campaign finance law does not require anonymous political speech.”

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About the Author:

Jim has been executive editor of the News Service since 2013 and has covered state government and politics in Florida since 1998.