‘The Most Powerful Unelected Person in Florida’: The Donor Who’s Cozy With Gov. Ron DeSantis

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By Giselle Balido

July 11, 2023

During DeSantis’ 2022 campaign, this real estate CEO’s companies supported political groups aligned with DeSantis to the tune of at least $361,000 and allowed the governor and his wife to fly in his private planes.

He has been called the most powerful unelected person in Florida. That is because whenever Morteza “Mori”’ Hosseini is mentioned by reporters, he is classified as an “adviser” to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Despite this, the name of the 68-year-old Iran-born, London-educated CEO of ICI Homes, a custom home building company headquartered in Daytona Beach, Florida, may not ring a bell to the average Floridian. 

In fact, some may have only heard of him because of a recent brouhaha regarding a $25,000 golf simulator that reportedly was given to the governor’s mansion by Hosseini, an act that raised ethics concerns. The simulator was explained away not as a gift, but an “indefinite loan.”

But the golf simulator incident is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the years-long relationship between the governor and the wealthy real estate developer who on numerous occasions lent his private plane to DeSantis and his wife, Casey, and arranged for the governor to play golf at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. 

Power and Influence

In 2021, Gov. DeSantis reappointed Hosseini to the University of Florida board, and the real estate developer co-chaired DeSantis’s gubernatorial transition team, along with his inaugural committee’s finance team. 

That same year, a report from the Tallahassee Democrat showed Hosseini emailed Dr. Joseph Ladapo’s resume directly to UF Health’s president. The same week Ladapo was appointed to UF faculty, he was also appointed as Florida’s next surgeon general and secretary of the Florida Department of Health by DeSantis. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Ladapo mirrored DeSantis’ views by questioning the safety of vaccines as well as disapproving of mask mandates and lockdowns. 

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

In 2023, eyebrows were again raised when the DeSantis Administration announced plans to use $92 million in leftover federal Covid-19 relief money to help fund a highway interchange that will hugely benefit Hosseini, who pursued the project for years. The funding accelerated the project by over a decade and will allow Hosseini to develop two large tracts of land bordering the interchange into housing units and nonresidential space.

Some local groups and environmentalists oppose the project, claiming that it will pollute local waterways and disturb sensitive wetland areas nearby. Despite these concerns, it was approved late last year by the DeSantis administration following the governor’s re-election win. 

It is worth noting that during DeSantis’ 2022 campaign, Hosseini companies supported political groups aligned with DeSantis to the tune of at least $361,000.

Requests from the media for an interview with Mr. Hosseini have been declined, as it is reported that he does not like speaking to reporters. 

Why Democrats Are Taking Action

Big money dominates modern US political campaigns to a degree not seen in decades, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit law and public policy institute named after Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan.

This, of course, is not new; the mega-rich have always contributed to candidates’ war chests on both sides of the aisle. But when billionaires pour staggering amounts into campaigns, the voices of ordinary Americans are often drowned under the financial avalanche.

RELATED: Billionaires Are Backing Ron DeSantis. This Is Why It Matters.

“It’s no secret that the way to Ron DeSantis’ ear is through his campaign account,” said Anders Croy, communications director of DeSantis Watch, a political committee holding DeSantis accountable for policies that are harmful to Floridians. 

In fact, last year, at least 42 billionaires and members of billionaire families contributed to DeSantis’ reelection campaign, according to a report from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. 

For this reason, any insinuation that big-money donors are influencing elected officials is taken very seriously by political watchdogs.

Last month, after recent reporting from NBC News accused Governor Ron DeSantis—along with officials in the Executive Office of the Governor—of unethical and illegal solicitation of campaign contributions from lobbyists, Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried filed three complaints against Governor DeSantis’ executive staff with the Florida Commission on Ethics and three complaints with the Florida Elections Commission.

“This corrupt scheme to generate fake support for his failing presidential campaign is a major threat to our democracy,” said Fried.

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Author

  • 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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