Ron DeSantis’ Old Law Firm Received Millions in State Funds

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According to records reviewed by The Daily Beast, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has steered millions of dollars in state business to two outside law firms with ties to him—including his old employer.

Holland & Knight—where DeSantis worked as a civil litigator before dropping out to run for Congress in 2012—was roped up in a scandal regarding political pressure from the governor’s office to scuttle a 2020 lawsuit against the state. The same firm was also handed a contract to defend Florida in a major felons’ voting rights case that has in recent weeks resurfaced in a viral controversy about voter scare tactics.

The second firm, Republican election law powerhouse Holtzman Vogel PLLC, has received more than $4 million in contracts from Florida agencies over the last year, mostly tied to voting rights cases. It has no previous contracts listed in the Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System.

According to data with the Center for Responsive Politics, DeSantis’ old firm of Holland & Knight was the third-largest corporate source of campaign funds during his 2011-2018 congressional tenure. The company contributed a total $44,300 in employee and PAC donations—more than Koch Industries—and threw another $50,000 behind DeSantis’ 2018 gubernatorial bid.

Until that year, Holland & Knight had pocketed only $2,750 in contracts with the state of Florida, per FACTS data. But in 2018, the firm developed what Law.com called “a new revenue stream”—“defending state agencies and DeSantis in lawsuits, sometimes involving controversial legislation.”

According to the report, the firm raked in nearly $3 million between 2018 and 2020 while defending the state in three legal matters: a lawsuit over inadequate foster home care (which the state settled), the voting rights for felons case, and a 2020 suit regarding mail-in voting restrictions.

All that work fell to one Holland & Knight lawyer, who served as outside counsel for the state government. But when he left the firm in Aug. 2020, the contracts dried up. State data shows Holland & Knight has signed no new contracts with state agencies since then.

That attorney, George Meros—whose son, Nick Meros, currently serves as deputy general counsel for DeSantis—was at the center of a 2020 controversy where the DeSantis administration allegedly muscled out a lawsuit that would have forced the state to turn over COVID data for senior care facilities.

According to prior reporting, while George Meros was defending the state in the voting rights case, he called a Holland & Knight colleague and pressured him to drop the COVID public records lawsuit, which the colleague was preparing to file on behalf of the Miami Herald.

The colleague, who had handled public records cases in the state for decades, told Law.com it was “the first time he felt the governor’s influence in his practice.”

“Some lobbyists in Holland & Knight’s Tallahassee office put some things in motion and I was told to stand down,” he said. “I said OK, but I’m telling the Herald why. My guess is the firm was trying to get in, or stay in, the good graces of the governor.”

The other firm, Holtzman Vogel, caught a similarly sudden windfall in Florida agency work.

Over the last year, Holtzman Vogel—which represented former President Donald Trump in 2020 election lawsuits—has done more than $4 million in business with the state, per the FACTS database. The firm hadn’t received any contracts previously, according to the data.

The first contracts—for $550,000 and $2.2 million, in October 2021—were related to two controversial election laws, including challenges to the felons voting rights legislation, per state records.

As DeSantis mulls a 2024 White House run, his national profile has begun to rise—as has scrutiny on how he has wielded the power of the governor’s office, a position he’s held since 2019. Most recently, the Treasury Department has opened an investigation into the possible improper use of state funds to bankroll a political stunt where DeSantis flew migrants to Martha’s Vineyard under the false belief of receiving employment and government aid.

In March, the Vogel Group gave $50,000 to Friends of Ron DeSantis, a state-level group backing the governor. Since then, both the Vogel Group and Holtzman Vogel—which share a husband-and-wife nexus in Alex and Jill Vogel—have reportedly expanded their presence in the state. And last month, DeSantis appointed a partner at the firm to the First District Court of Appeals Judicial Nominating Commission.

The DeSantis-Vogel alliance might raise eyebrows among GOP insiders, as it encroaches on established Trump territory. Holtzman Vogel attorneys filed multiple lawsuits related to voting restrictions in the 2020 election, and the firm formerly employed top Trump campaign lawyer Justin Clark. (The Daily Beast previously reported that Jill Vogel had played a secret top role in Kanye West’s ill-conceived 2020 presidential campaign.) The firm is also affiliated with the Honest Elections Project, which was involved with voter-suppression efforts in 2020.

DeSantis and the firm have also passed each other through the revolving door. In September, the Vogel Group was reported to have hired a former deputy general counsel to the governor.

Representatives for DeSantis, Holland & Knight, and Holtzman Vogel didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

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https://www.thedailybeast.com/ron-desantis-old-law-firm-received-millions-in-state-funds