First Read

Orlando basketball team feels 'magic' about Ron DeSantis, gives $50K to super PAC

But a team spokesperson the money really was 'for the continued prosperity of Central Florida'

DeSantis speaks to news media after an event on Thursday, July 27, 2023 in Chariton, Iowa, in front of the Never Back Down super PAC bus.

DeSantis speaks to news media after an event on Thursday, July 27, 2023 in Chariton, Iowa, in front of the Never Back Down super PAC bus. Sergio Flores for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Florida political Twitter (or X?) has been ablaze over the past few days with the discovery that the Orlando Magic made a $50,000 donation to Never Back Down, the super PAC backing Gov. Ron DeSantis for president. As Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani pointed out, the Orlando Magic is owned by the billionaire DeVos family, who run deep in Republican circles. 

Betsy DeVos, sister-in-law of the team’s current president, was former President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education. She quit the day after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection that has since landed Trump in federal court. But the reason for the donation likely has little to do with any family beefs with the former commander-in-chief and more to do with protecting their Florida business bottom-line.

In an email to independent journalist Judd Legum, Magic Chief Communications Officer Joel Glass pointed out that the donation was delivered on May 19, before DeSantis officially entered the race.  According to the email, the money was meant for DeSantis the governor, not DeSantis the presidential candidate. The donation "was given as a Florida business in support of a Florida governor for the continued prosperity of Central Florida,” Glass wrote.

The donation came around the same time the governor’s team was soliciting lobbyists and insiders for donations prior to the state’s budget being approved. The team’s donation came almost a month before DeSantis signed the budget.

DeSantis isn’t the only Florida presidential candidate who has gotten campaign cash from NBA-related donors. 

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has received $3,300 each from former Miami Heat players Alonzo Mourning and Shane Battier. Mourning, who developed a close friendship with Barack Obama when he was president, once appeared in an ad, produced by then-state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, with Suarez to demonstrate how to correctly wear a mask during the COVID pandemic. A real estate development company that partnered with a nonprofit founded by Mourning also gave tens of thousands to Suarez’s mayoral campaigns.

As for Battier, he has stayed away from politics, declining to run for the U.S. Senate when approached by Michigan Democrats in 2014.  Since then, however, he has become involved in the tech industry that Suarez seeks to court. He is on the board of directors of Yext, an AI search company. 

A shorter version of this post was first published as First Up, part of City & State's daily "First Read" morning newsletter. To subscribe for free, please visit our newsletters page

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