TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — More than a month after Russia invaded Ukraine, Florida Democrats have continued calls for Gov. Ron DeSantis to formally end the state’s investments in Russian companies.
Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, DeSantis took shots at Putin in comments while at an event in Tampa on March 2, calling him “an authoritarian gas station attendant” and criticizing America’s international allies for not steering away from Russian oil.
According to DeSantis’ Democratic critics and political opponents in the coming gubernatorial election, Florida’s governor has not taken enough action to move away from its economic ties to Russia. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg), who is running for governor against DeSantis, said he has “failed” to be tough on Putin. Crist has repeatedly urged the governor to divest state investments in Russian companies.
Current Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, another contender for governor against DeSantis, has taken a similar stance, calling for the state to divest from the companies and submitted a plan to do so, as well as move toward what she calls clean energy independence. Fried said the state must “act on it as soon as possible” to buffer its dependence on foreign energy.
To that end, an amendment in the state legislature came during appropriations votes to pull the money away from Russian investment, but failed to gather enough support to pass. Florida has about $300 million the wrapped up in what are called Russian domiciled entities, or a company based in Russia.
The amendment to divest was introduced by Hillsborough state representative Andrew Learned, a Democrat. In new comments that Rep. Learned posted to Twitter, he criticized Florida Republicans for their silence on the matter.
“Reminder: still crickets from Florida GOP about divesting our Russian investments,” Learned tweeted.
His tweet was a reply to reporting by the Wall Street Journal that a Russian oligarch, and Ukrainians, involved in peace negotiations had “suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning” after a meeting in Kyiv.
Despite their urging to divest, the process for cutting off state funds to Russian companies is more complicated than just pushing a button or pulling a plug.
The state’s investments in Russian companies are managed by the State Board of Administration. The Florida SBA operates as an investment fiduciary, and before any decision to invest or divest is made, the board has to review the funds.
Adding to the list of political figures urging state divestment, Florida’s U.S. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) has also called for divestiture from Russian companies, though not specifically focused on the state’s own investments. Scott, like Crist, is a former governor of Florida.
The SBA is, by law, under the control of the Governor, alongside the state’s Chief Financial Officer and Attorney General, Jimmy Patronis and Ashley Moody, respectively.
That said, a representative for DeSantis said investment and divestment decisions must be made in accordance with state law, and any federal regulations, which include Treasury Department sanctions. The representative also said the $300 million mentioned for investment was the amount held before the latest federal sanctions on Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine, and the value of the assets in question “may have changed due to volatility in the stock market.”
“The SBA has been reviewing investments in Russian domiciled entities,” according to the Governor’s Office. “Any decisions will be announced after the SBA has concluded its review.”