Florida Gov. DeSantis Accused of Favoritism in Distributing Covid Vaccine, Congress Urged to Investigate

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks holding his facemask during a press conference to address the rise of coronavirus cases in the state, at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, on July 13, 2020.
Chandan Khanna | AFP | Getty Images
  • Nikki Fried, Florida's agriculture commissioner, called for a congressional investigation of Gov. Ron DeSantis' handling of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
  • She said pop-up vaccination sites have favored wealthy ZIP codes connected to DeSantis' political donors.
  • Her request comes days after a similar one from Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla.
  • Both Crist and Fried are longtime critics of DeSantis and have been floated as potential gubernatorial candidates.

Florida's agriculture commissioner on Monday called for a congressional investigation into Gov. Ron DeSantis over "alleged political favoritism" in his state's distribution of Covid-19 vaccine doses.

Nikki Fried, the state's Democratic agriculture commissioner, noted that at least three "pop-up" vaccination sites have been "organized in wealthy communities affiliated with donors to the governor's political campaigns."

Fried, who's long been a staunch critic of DeSantis, asked Congress to investigate in a letter sent Monday morning to Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, and Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., its ranking Republican member. 

"My office has received frequent complaints regarding the unequal distribution of vaccines," Fried wrote in the letter, which was obtained by CNBC. She went on to accuse DeSantis of "inept distribution of vaccines at best, and corrupt political patronage at worst." The letter was first reported on by Yahoo Finance.

DeSantis' office did not return CNBC's request for comment on the allegations.

Fried cited news reports of the three so-called pop-up vaccination sites. In the first instance, "DeSantis allowed politically-connected private developers to dole out the life-saving drug to residents of their upscale communities, bypassing systems set up to ensure equitable access to vaccines," the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported.

Fried cited other reports, too, of pop-up vaccination sites appearing in affluent neighborhoods reportedly connected to DeSantis' donors.

"Given the numerous serious questions regarding the Governor's impartiality and potential political corruption in distributing life-saving vaccine, I encourage your committee to initiate a congressional inquiry into Florida's vaccine distribution procedures, including compelling the production any testimony, records and documents as you see fit," she wrote.

Fried also sent a letter to DeSantis on Monday morning, asking him to suspend Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh from public office. Baugh, Fried wrote, is under investigation for allegedly "placing herself, friends and family on a VIP vaccine list." Baugh also selected her district, two wealthy ZIP codes, to receive additional vaccine doses from the state, Fried wrote.

Baugh has apologized for what she called "a lapse in judgment," according to a statement obtained by TV station ABC7 WWSB. Baugh did not immediately return CNBC's request for comment.

It's the second time a Florida Democrat has called for a federal investigation into DeSantis' handling of the vaccine rollout. On Feb. 21, Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., sent a letter to the Department of Justice, asking it to investigate reports that DeSantis has established vaccination sites "in select locations to benefit political allies and donors, over the needs of higher risk communities and existing county waitlists."

Notably, both Fried and Crist have been named in news reports as potential gubernatorial challengers to DeSantis.

"As reported by multiple news outlets, the Governor is setting up 'pop-up' vaccination sites to deliver doses to select communities," Crist, another longtime DeSantis critic, wrote. "The ZIP codes in question have the highest income levels and lowest COVID infection rates in the county."

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