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Ron DeSantis Helicopter Photo Spurs Questions About Campaign Ethics

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It was a photo op intended to turbocharge Republican voters, one showing Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida posing in front of a helicopter on Sunday at the southern border in Texas.

But the display is creating an unwanted spotlight for Mr. DeSantis: The helicopter is funded by Texas taxpayers, raising questions about the political nature of the flight and its cost.

Federal law requires presidential candidates to pay the fair-market rate for noncommercial air travel and reimburse providers of flights. In this case, the Texas Department of Public Safety owns the 2008 Eurocopter, according to a Federal Aviation Administration database of aircraft tail numbers.

Additionally, ethics rules in Texas bar officials there from using state resources in support of political campaigns.

Mr. DeSantis’s office suggested that he was visiting the border in a dual capacity, as both governor and presidential candidate, but his official schedule as governor omitted mention of it. Jeremy Redfern, a spokesman for Mr. DeSantis in the governor’s office, referred questions on Wednesday about the helicopter flight to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

That agency said Mr. DeSantis was briefed during his visit about joint immigration enforcement activities between Florida and Texas at the border, part of a program known as Operation Lone Star.

“The briefing included an aerial tour which was provided by D.P.S. in order to give Gov. DeSantis a clearer understanding of how Florida’s resources are being utilized along our southern border and see the challenges first hand,” Ericka Miller, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in an email on Wednesday.

Mr. DeSantis’s campaign shared the helicopter photo on Twitter on Monday, the same day that he proposed a series of hard-right immigration policies in a campaign speech in Eagle Pass, a small Texas border city.

Reflecting the split nature of his duties, Mr. DeSantis on Sunday wore a short-sleeve white shirt that said “Governor Ron DeSantis” on the right and “DeSantis for President” on the left.

Mr. DeSantis’s use of the taxpayer-funded helicopter was first reported by The Daily Beastwhich also noted that he took a boat tour of the Rio Grande as part of his visit. A Fox News reporter accompanied him by air and by water.

That boat is owned by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, The New York Times confirmed. The state agency had already deployed the vessel there through a mutual-aid arrangement, and as part of the Operation Lone Star program.

Mr. Redfern, in a statement, challenged that there was anything inappropriate about Mr. DeSantis’s ride on the Florida taxpayer-owned boat.

“Participating in a routine patrol with F.W.C. is not outside the purview of the governor’s job as the state’s chief executive,” he said.

Myles Martin, a spokesman for the Federal Election Commission, said in an email on Wednesday that he was not able to comment about specific candidates or their activities. But he pointed out that federal campaign finance rules require candidates to reimburse federal, state or local government entities when using aircraft owned by them to campaign.

Political committees must also pay back costs associated with others means of transportation, including boat travel.

Mr. DeSantis has previously faced accusations that he is inappropriately blurring the lines between his official duties and his campaign.

As Mr. DeSantis prepared to sign Florida’s record-breaking budget earlier this month, lobbyists and state lawmakers said the governor’s staff called them seeking either campaign contributions or political endorsements — outreach that would normally be made by members of Mr. DeSantis’s campaign. The conversations left the lobbyists and lawmakers afraid that Mr. DeSantis would veto their projects from the budget if they did not comply, they said.

And when Mr. DeSantis signed the budget, he vetoed several projects sponsored by State Senator Joe Gruters, a Republican who has endorsed former President Donald J. Trump, the Republican front-runner. Mr. Gruters accused the governor of retribution, calling him “meanspirited” and saying he had chosen to “punish ordinary Floridians” because of a political disagreement.

The governor’s office denied that the vetoes were political. And at a news conference in Tampa last week, Mr. DeSantis said there was nothing wrong with aides in his office supporting his campaign in their “spare time.”

But Nikki Fried, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party, filed state ethics and elections complaints against three top staffers in the governor’s office. “Any reasonable person could infer from the reporting that our governor was holding the state budget hostage in exchange for political endorsements and donations — actions that are both unethical and illegal,” Ms. Fried said in a statement.

Earlier this year, Mr. DeSantis also signed a bill shielding his travel records from public disclosure, preventing an accounting of the taxpayer funds being used to cover security and other costs during his campaign trips.

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