Florida governor candidate Ron DeSantis not returning cash to donor who called Obama N-word

Posted at 8:10 AM, Sep 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-21 12:44:11-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis' campaign for Florida governor said Thursday he will no longer accept money from a donor who used the N-word in a tweet about former President Barack Obama, but said contributions the donor's company made won't be returned because they were already spent on the primary.

MORE: DeSantis warns Florida not to 'monkey this up' by electing Gillum

Campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson said Thursday that money DeSantis and took from Steven Alembik's company, SMA Communications, was spent before the Aug. 28 primary and the campaign hasn't taken any money from him or SMA since DeSantis secured the GOP nomination to replace Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

The Democratic affiliated group American Bridge provided a screen shot of Alembik's tweet, in which he used profanity to describe Obama as a Muslim N-word.

"We've said it before, we'll say it again: we adamantly denounce this sort of disgusting rhetoric," Lawson said in an email.

SMA Communications donated $2,000 to DeSantis' campaign and $2,000 to DeSantis' political committee. Another $11,000 in donations from Alembik and SMA were returned in June, three months before Alembik's tweet. The campaign wasn't sure why the money was returned, but said it was unrelated.

SMA Communications' website lists Ron Desantis' campaign as a client, but DeSantis' campaign said that they have not contracted with SMA.

"He is in no way a vendor for us. He's never done any work for us. Period," Lawson said.

It's not the first time race has come up as an issue in the campaign against Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is hoping to become Florida's first black governor. The day after the primary, DeSantis said Florida voters shouldn't "monkey this up" by supporting Gillum. Democrats immediately criticized the comment as racist.

"It is up to Congressman DeSantis to explain to Floridians why he has chosen to associate himself with right wing extremist groups and divisive individuals who want to pit us against one another," the Gillum campaign said in an email.

Alembik didn't take a call from The Associated Press on Thursday. Instead, Sean Jackson, chairman of the Black Republicans of South Florida, was handling calls for him.

Jackson said Alembik isn't a racist and that he has a "plethora of black friends."

"All of it is false, all of it is incorrect and all of it is a flat out lie," Jackson said.

He added that Alembik is Jewish, and he said he doesn't "know too many racist Jews" because "they went through the same thing" as African-Americans.

"The tweet has no relevance and it does not speak to the character of this man," Jackson said.

Scott can't seek re-election because of term limits and is instead challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.