Florida governor Ron DeSantis is facing backlash for his brazen corruption over a coronavirus vaccine distribution deal with Publix.
DeSantis announced in January that Publix, a grocery chain with a pharmaceutical division, would be distributing COVID-19 vaccines through their pharmacies. The chain receives nearly 25% of all Florida's shots, according to local media.
Distributing vaccines is lucrative. Under federal guidelines, Publix, like other private companies, can charge Medicare $40 a shot to administer the vaccine.
Now we are finding out that the deal was given to Publix thanks to donations they showered on a PAC supporting DeSantis.
"Campaign finance reports show that weeks before the governor's announcement, Publix donated $100,000 to his political action committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis. Julie Jenkins Fancelli, heiress to the Publix fortune, has given $55,000 to the governor's PAC in the past. In November, Fancelli's brother-in-law, Hoyt R. Barnett, a retired Publix executive, donated $25,000," reported Sharyn Alfonsi for CBS 60 minutes.
"I would argue that kind of legalized bribery usually leads to sweetheart deals like the one Publix got to take advantage of here, essentially exploiting a global pandemic for corporate gain," said Ana Kasparian.
Co-host Francesca Fiorentini agreed, saying, "DeSantis has not taken the pandemic seriously at all, he puts the market first and so it is exactly what you would expect from a Republican."
"Just so gross that this is what it has come to. I think leaving it to the states and it depending on whether you are lucky enough to have a governor who minimally cares - the rollout has been so patchwork and I think when it comes to public health we really need to rethink what the hell we’re doing," she added.
Moreover, DeSantis refused an interview an with 60 Minutes. But he was confronted by Alfonsi who asked him about the campaign donations. Here’s how he answered:
Sharyn Alfonsi: Publix, as you know, donated $100,000 to your campaign. And then you rewarded them with the exclusive rights to distribute the vaccination in Palm Beach County.
*Ron DeSantis: So, first of all, that-- what you're saying is wrong. That's--
*Sharyn Alfonsi: How is that not pay to play?
Ron DeSantis: --that-- that's a fake narrative. I met with the county mayor. I met with the administrator. I met with all the folks in Palm Beach County and I said, "here's some of the options. We can do more drive-thru sites. We can give more to hospitals. We can do the Publix." And they said, "We think that would be the easiest thing for our residents."**
The team at 60 Minutes checked on this, and it turns out, DeSantis was lying.
"Melissa McKinlay, the county commissioner in the Glades, told us the governor never met with her about the Publix deal," they reported.
The Publix deal made it more difficult for poor communities and black people to have easy access to the vaccines.
"State data revealed of the more than 160,000 residents in Palm Beach County who'd been vaccinated, only 2% were Black and 3% Hispanic. Even though minorities make up almost half the county," the 60 minutes report said.
Another example is Belle Glade. In the community of Belle Glade the nearest Publix is 25 miles away, and for residents who don't have a car, it takes two buses and a round trip of more than two hours. About 90% of residents are Black and Latino. Many live below the poverty line. By March, 11 weeks into the rollout, more than half the seniors in the Glades had still not been vaccinated.
"When you're dealing with a global pandemic - something that actually requires collective action - having this catastrophic decentralized approach based on a profit motive does not work, and that's why the US hasn't fared so well especially compared to other countries like Canada for instance," said Kasparian. "Overall the driving force behind our pandemic policy has been profits," she added.
"There is nothing more bureaucratic on god's green earth than our private healthcare system. Top to bottom, the number of bureaucrats feeding off this broken ass system are innumerable," said Fiorentini.
Moreover, this is just the latest allegation of vaccine corruption against DeSantis. As TYT has reported, DeSantis gave the community of Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County, one of the wealthiest enclaves in the state, 3,000 vaccines in February after local developer Pat Neal donated $135,000 to the governor's PAC.
Ocean Reef Club, located in north Key Largo, had been vaccinated by mid-January. All residents had given the governor contributions of $5,000 each through December 2020, according to the Florida Division of Elections. On Feb. 25, one resident of Ocean Reef, Bruce Rauner, the former Republican governor of Illinois increased his contribution and wrote a $250,000 check.
Hollywood moguls, New York socialites and tourists from overseas were getting vaccinated in Florida, posting on social media and sparking outrage. Early on, there were no residency requirements to get vaccinated in the state.
"Floridians, please stop voting for these grifting bandits because they're stealing from you and they're literally putting you in a bad spot in the middle of a pandemic," concluded Kasparian.