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ICYMI: Text Messages Implicate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Chief of Staff In Politically-Motivated Vaccine Scheme
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration continues to come under fire for prioritizing wealthy campaign donors for COVID-19 vaccines. DeSantis has tried to brush off these allegations, but text messages revealed today that vaccine organizers discussed how one of these VIP vaccine clinics could benefit Gov. DeSantis’ re-election: “‘22 is just around the corner.”
One such VIP clinic took place at Lakewood Ranch, a mostly white, affluent retirement community in Manatee County led by a DeSantis campaign donor. DeSantis reportedly struck a deal with the company’s CEO, Rex Jensen, to host a vaccination clinic in Lakewood, provided DeSantis only offer the vaccines to people living in two of the wealthiest zip codes in the county.
The text messages, between Manatee County Commission Chair Vanessa Baugh and CEO Rex Jensen, confirm the vaccine scheme and implicate DeSantis’ chief of staff – in one message, Jensen appears to be recounting a call with DeSantis, mentioning “chief of staff Adrian was also involved.”
Baugh and Jensen also discuss the political benefits for DeSantis, noting the vaccine clinic could help him “get exposure” at Jensen’s wealthy retirement community and saying “this can be huge for him.”
It turned out VIP vaccine clinics like the one at Lakewood were “huge” for DeSantis. The Miami Herald reported last week a similar clinic in Key Largo happened after 17 residents donated $5,000 each to DeSantis’ political committee. And on February 25th, Bruce Rauner, former GOP Illinois governor, increased his contribution to DeSantis after receiving a vaccine at a VIP clinic, writing a $250,000 check. So far, DeSantis has raised $3.9 million since December, and his $2.7 million in contributions in February was the most he’s raised since running for governor in 2018.
Read more about DeSantis’ corrupt vaccine rollout below.
Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Florida COVID vaccine organizers discussed how upscale clinic could benefit Gov. Ron DeSantis
Text messages between Manatee County Commission Chair Vanessa Baugh and Lakewood Ranch developer Rex Jensen show them discussing the political benefits for Gov. Ron DeSantis of holding a COVID-19 vaccine clinic that the pair organized in the upscale community.
In the text exchange, Jensen appears to be recounting a call with DeSantis. He mentions that “chief of staff Adrian was also involved.” The governor’s deputy chief of staff at the time was Adrian Lukis, who was announced Monday as his new chief of staff.
Jensen goes on to say that DeSantis “said he might show up” at the vaccine clinic, which Jensen says would the governor “get exposure here.”
“Excellent point,” Baugh responds. “After all, 22 is right around the corner.”
Baugh appears to be referring to the governor’s 2022 re-election campaign.
“Yup,” Jensen responds, before noting that the Lakewood Ranch venue where the clinic was held, the Premiere Sports Campus, “could have a nice setup for him.”
“Absolutely,” Baugh responds, adding: “This can be huge for him.”
Baugh has said that Jensen was contacted by DeSantis and asked to do a vaccination clinic in Lakewood Ranch, and Jensen contacted Baugh to help organize the effort.
The texts indicate that political considerations were on the minds of those planning a vaccination event that has since become highly controversial, with critics complaining that the clinic held Feb. 17-19 limited vaccines to individuals in two wealthy, heavily white and Republican ZIP codes. It’s not clear from the text exchange documents what the date is, but other documents indicate it was on Feb. 9.
Baugh also has been sharply criticized, and is under investigation by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, for creating a vaccine VIP list that included five names of people to get the shot, including herself and Jensen.
The Lakewood Ranch clinic sparked concerns of vaccine favoritism and political motivations influencing decisions on who got access to the life-saving shots.
Jensen serves as president and CEO of Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, which has donated to DeSantis, adding to questions about whether DeSantis is giving communities tied to his donors special access to the vaccine. DeSantis donor Pat Neal also was tapped to host a vaccine clinic, which ended up offering special vaccine access to three communities where Neal is building homes, including one Sarasota County development with homes valued at more than $1 million.
Clinic locations coming under question
The texts between Baugh and Jensen touch on the political payback for DeSantis when communities agree to host these vaccine events and offer some of the strongest evidence that politics may have factored into the discussions around these vaccine pop-up clinics.