Former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner made a $250,000 campaign contribution to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last week after nearly everyone age 65 or older in the wealthy gated community where Rauner lives was reportedly vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-January.
Rauner made the contribution on Feb. 25, according to DeSantis' campaign finance records, listing Rauner's occupation as "retired" and his address in the members-only waterfront community of the Ocean Reef Club, an enclave for the wealthy in Key Largo.
The Miami Herald first reported the contribution on Wednesday night, along with an emailed newsletter that the paper obtained in which the Ocean Reef Club's management informed residents on Jan. 22 that more than 1,200 homeowners in the community had been vaccinated under the governor's guidelines making anyone 65 or older eligible.
The exclusive Ocean Reef Club boasts about 1,700 properties, from condominiums that reportedly start at $550,000 to single-family homes priced as high as $19 million. Real estate records show that the address Rauner lists in his campaign contributions is a 4-bedroom, 5,361-square foot home purchased in 2003 for $5.6 million.
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Rauner said via text message Thursday that the Miami Herald's report was a "ridiculous story" and that he had "been supporting [Florida Republicans]" on what he called "core issues: education, conservation, jobs."
DeSantis was doing a "great job," Rauner added. It was not immediately clear if Rauner, who turned 65 in February, received the vaccine.
Campaign finance records show Rauner began making political contributions again for the first time since leaving office in Illinois in September 2020, when he contributed $2,800 to Rep. Carlos Gimenez's congressional campaign in Florida and $5,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, according to Federal Election Commission records. Records from the state of Florida show he also gave $5,000 to DeSantis' campaign committee on Sept. 21, followed by $10,000 to the Florida House Republican Campaign Committee on Oct. 22.
That amounts to a total of $22,800 to Republican candidates or campaigns in Florida - less than 10% of the single contribution he made to DeSantis last week.
FEC records also show that Rauner gave $142,000 in two contributions in late November and early December to the National Republican Senate Committee, which is focused on U.S. Senate elections nationally and not strictly Florida-based.
Rauner, who was elected Illinois governor in 2014 and served one term before he was defeated in 2018 by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, is widely believed to be a billionaire and poured more than $95 million into his two campaigns, state records show.
The news of Rauner's contribution came as DeSantis has faced heightened scrutiny and calls for a federal investigation into Florida's vaccine rollout, particularly an initiative to vaccinate communities through special "pop-up" sites. The Miami Herald reported Wednesday that DeSantis' political committee raised $2.7 million in February alone, noting that that total was more than he raised in any other month since he first ran for governor in 2018.
DeSantis called the Miami Herald's reporting a "train wreck" during a news conference Thursday, saying he was not involved in the Ocean Reef Club's vaccinations.
"What that was was one of the South Florida hospital systems went and went to this community and vaccinated a bunch of seniors. I think that's great. I want seniors to get shots. I think they did a good job doing that, we just weren't involved with it in any way shape or form," DeSantis said.
"My view is: if you're 65 and up, I'm not worried about your income bracket, I'm worried about your age bracket, because it's the age, not the income that shows the risk," he added.
Officials from Monroe County said the Ocean Reef Club's medical center is an affiliate of an area hospital that coordinated the vaccinations, according to the AP.