Governor’s national ambitions prove to be windfall for high-powered DC firm
Gov Ron DeSantis is hard at work establishing himself as a leader among both the pool of GOP governors around the nation as well as the Republican Party writ large, and that evidently comes with a cost.
The Florida governor’s long and frequent legal battles with left-leaning groups of citizens and organisations are well-documented; most recently, the state of Florida went to war in the courts over the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prohibits classroom “instruction” in public schools surrounding the issue (or existence) of same-sex relationships, couples, and marriage in general.
The governor was also briefly sued earlier this year over his efforts to remove Disney’s self-governing power over the business district that encompasses its Florida resorts in Orlando.
These culture war issues, which largely have centered around the growing opposition on the right to LGBT+ rights as well as the teaching of issues like the US slave trade and the Holocaust in public schools, have come to define Mr DeSantis’s administration as he tries to make a name for himself nationally among the Republican Party’s voter base.
It’s commonly thought among analysts and observers that the governor has natioal political ambitions, and may even seek to run for president in 2024. He frequently polls as the most-competitive GOP primary candidate behind Donald Trump.
Mr DeSantis’s administration has long turned to a high-powered DC law firm favourited by conservatives to wage this culture war in the courts: Cooper and Kirk, a firm with a long history of serving right-leaning clients including Ted Cruz, Rick Scott, Jeff Sessions and other Republican headliners. He has worked with the firm since at least August of 2020, when it was reported in the Tampa Bay Times that Florida taxpayers were on the hook for a quarter million billed by Cooper & Kirk to defend a law passed by Republicans banning felons from voting until their court fees are paid off.
But Mr DeSantis’s connection to the firm goes deeper than did those of its previous clients. The firm, which proudly touts its boutique nature and small size as strengths, employs Nevada US Senate candidate Adam Laxalt among its partners; Mr Laxalt was Mr DeSantis’s roommate when the two studied at the Naval Justice School.
Now, the Orlando Sentinel is reporting that the continued relationship between Mr DeSantis’s administration and Cooper & Kirk has led to a windfall for the firm, which has taken home $2.8m in legal fees from Florida taxpayers in just a few short years. A first-termer, Mr DeSantis only took office in 2019. Millions more have gone to other firms as well, totalling $5.4m since the governor took office.
The Independent has reached out to Mr DeSantis’s office for comment on the lucrative relationship that has developed since the governor took office. The governor’s team previously claimed that the administration is a target for so many lawsuits due to “activist groups that sue to accomplish their agenda by judicial fiat”.
”Cooper & Kirk’s relationship with the State of Florida long predates Gov. DeSantis’ tenure, going back at least 20 years, when Governor Jeb Bush hired our firm to defend Florida’s voting laws relating to felons. We prevailed in that case in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and so it’s hardly surprising that the State of Florida returned to us on a similar issue – the defense of Amendment 4 — in 2020,” said Chuck Cooper, a founding partner in the firm, in a statement to The Independent.
“We successfully represented the State in the Amendment 4 case, and we have subsequently been retained to defend the State in other matters. We have also represented many other states on a wide variety of cases over the years, and we currently represent at least a half dozen states in important cases and matters,” he added.
The Florida governor recently won an endorsement (should he choose to run) from Elon Musk, the controversial Tesla CEO whose public antics have led his own employees to ask the company to intervene.
Mr DeSantis responded by claiming that he welcomed support from “African-Americans”, a racially charged reference to Mr Musk’s South African ancestry.
“I’m focused on 2022, but with Elon Musk, what I would say is, you know I welcome support from African-Americans,” he said at a press conference Thursday. “What can I say?”