DeSantis Steered Taxpayer Dollars and Pension Investments to Projects and Firms Backed by Donors

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By Giselle Balido

May 18, 2023

DeSantis approved $10 million of taxpayers funds for the Cox Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach, following donations from the center’s biggest booster. The governor has also steered state pension funds towards firms run by his donors

As Gov. Ron DeSantis prepares to sign the state’s record $117 billion budget into law—and veto line-items he objects to—a pair of new reports this week highlight how the Republican governor has wielded his power in the past and what may be influencing those decisions.

Donations Poured In

Last June, DeSantis announced he had vetoed more than $3 billion of earmarks from the state spending plan. These included a $1 billion fund proposed by the House to help the state deal with the cost of inflation, and $20 million for the Moffitt Cancer Center to develop a 775-acre life sciences park, among others.

At the same time, DeSantis announced that he had approved $10 million of taxpayers funds for the Cox Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach that abuts Palm Beach’s “Billionaire’s Row,” Florida’s wealthiest community. DeSantis justified the decision because, he said, the science center is “very popular with the summer camp kids.” 

RELATED: As Rents Increase, so Do Big Buck Donations to DeSantis From the Real Estate Industry

But as the Seeking Rents newsletter reported this week, the governor made that decision after he met with and received a $10,000 donation to his campaign from one of his supporters, Howard Cox, who in 2021 also gave $20 million to what was then known as the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium. The science center was renamed after Cox following his gift.

Cox previously gave DeSantis’ former political action committee $15,000 during the candidate’s 2018 run for governor, in addition to another $21,000 after he took office.

A few months after DeSantis approved the $10 million for the science center, Cox gave him another $60,000.

Gambling With Pension Funds 

DeSantis has also exerted his power on how state workers’ retirement funds should be invested. He has waged war against what he calls “woke investments,” claiming that investments in these companies threaten state employees’ retirement funds.

At the same time, though, he’s steered state pension funds towards firms run by his donors—a move that appears to be hurting pensioners in Florida.

In fact, according to a Lever News report, despite the existence of a federal rule that specifically bans donors from receiving pension investments, DeSantis supervised the transfer of more than $1 billion of Florida public employees’ retirement dollars into high-risk “alternative investments” managed by firms that donate to him and other Republicans.

Lever’s analysis found that simply investing the state pension fund in a simple, low-cost index fund would net state employees about $10 billion more in their retirement funds.

People Across the State Are Struggling

While DeSantis directs taxpayers dollars into projects and investments that are backed by his supporters, many people across the state are struggling with myriad problems, from a growing property insurance crisis and skyrocketing housing costs to inadequate access to healthcare and clean water.  

The Republican governor continues to refuse to expand Medicaid health insurance using money provided by the Affordable Care Act, under which the federal government pays 90% of expansion costs and the state covers the rest. Forty states have expanded or agreed to expand Medicaid, but Florida Republicans have refused to do so, even as it would help roughly 800,000 residents get healthcare coverage.

DeSantis’ ineffective management of the emergency rental assistance provided to the state by the federal government has also caused many Floridians to leave their homes, unable to afford rising rental prices. 

RELATED: DeSantis Goes After Companies ‘Imposing Woke Ideology on the Economy’

“At every turn, Gov. DeSantis sides with corporations over consumers, puts profits over people, and donors over Floridians. The result: an unaffordable Florida,” said Charlie Crist, former U.S. Rep. for Florida from 2017 to 2022.


  • Giselle Balido

    Giselle is Floricua's political correspondent. She writes about the economy, environmental and social justice, and all things Latino. A published author, Giselle was born in Havana and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. She is passionate about equality, books, and cats.



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