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Political signs placed on USS Orleck for 'Ron DeSantis Flotilla' cause controversy

The organization that owns the ship is "prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign.”

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Republican party event held Saturday on the USS Orleck, a destroyer ship that is now on display in Jacksonville, is making waves, after signs supporting Governor Ron Desantis were placed on the ship.

Hundreds of boats filled the St Johns river and flew flags supporting Desantis, for the inaugural Ron DeSantis Flotilla. The Republican Party of Duval County also leased the USS Orleck for the event, decorating it with signs like this one that says ‘Keep Florida Free’ with a picture of the governor. 

Some are concerned the political messaging may have gone overboard.

Although the ship is owned by the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association it is classified by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) and is tax-exempt, meaning it is “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign.” 

According to the IRS, “any public statements (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate” that prohibition and “may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status."

Association President, Daniel Bean, who also works as an attorney at law, says he is positive that no regulations were violated because the organization was not endorsing the Governor during the event.

Instead, Bean says the ship was used as a venue to celebrate the achievements of the Governor, not campaign for his re-election.

“You know we hope that president Biden would come on board and have an event, and if we put build back better signs up, that would be okay. We wouldn’t be allowed to specially endorse president Biden for re-election, we’re not allowed to specially endorse Governo Desantirs for re-election, that’s not what we did," Daniel Bean, President of the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association, said.

The association also sent this statement:

"The Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association is an available venue for a variety of entities. Saturday’s event was hosted by the Republican Party of Duval County to celebrate Governor DeSantis' achievements as Governor. It was not an event to endorse a candidate for public office... we also opened the warship for public viewing after the event. In total, thousands of folks were downtown yesterday to visit the warship, and attracting folks downtown was a primary reason for us to work for over a decade to bring a Navy warship to Jacksonville."

We also asked event organizers about the decision to include Desantis signs on the ship.

Those are party decorations. We are the Republican Party of Duval County, we leased the Orleck, we decorate because we are republicans and that way and we have first amendments rights, and we are here to tell all of Florida and all the nation that we love Governor Ron Desantis," Dean Black, the Chairman for Republican Party of Duval County, said.

The Florida GOP is holding is quarterly meeting in Jacksonville this weekend.

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