Fried Calls for Congressional Vaccine Investigation, Suspension of Vanessa Baugh

Mar 1, 2021

Tallahassee, Fla. – This morning, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, an independently-elected member of the Florida Cabinet, sent two letters regarding the chaotic, politically-driven distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in Florida.

Congressional Investigation: Commissioner Fried wrote to Chairman James E. Clyburn, Ranking Member Steve Scalise, and bipartisan members of the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis encouraging investigation of alleged political favoritism and potential corruption in COVID-19 vaccine distribution under the Governor. The letter references numerous “pop up” vaccine events in wealthy communities tied to political allies of the Governor and donors to his campaigns.

The letter reads in part:

Earlier this month, a “pop-up” vaccine distribution occurred in two affluent ZIP codes after “DeSantis … quietly contacted a campaign donor, a real estate developer whose company built Lakewood Ranch, a mostly Republican, mainly White master-planned community in Manatee County.” The distribution included a “VIP list” for vaccine access arranged by a local official and political ally of Governor DeSantis, now under investigation for potential abuse of power.

Since then, additional incidents have been uncovered. A “pop-up” vaccination at an upscale community occurred in Sarasota County, tied to a real estate developer who “gave $25,000 to the Governor’s political committee and served on his transition team” and who said that “he was contacted by DeSantis to help.” An additional Charlotte County “pop-up” vaccine distribution occurred “in a gated country club community where some homes are priced at more than $1 million” tied to the same developer.

Given the numerous serious questions regarding the Governor’s impartiality and potential political corruption in distributing life-saving vaccines, I encourage your committee to initiate a congressional inquiry into Florida’s vaccine distribution procedures, including compelling the production of any testimony, records, and documents as you see fit.

Baugh Suspension: Commissioner Fried wrote to the Governor asking him to exercise his constitutional authority to suspend Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who is currently under investigation for arranging a COVID-19 vaccine “VIP list” including herself and her family and friends. The Governor has previously suspended local officials throughout his term.

The letter reads in part:

Baugh admitted that she skipped the line ahead of qualifying Floridians under your executive order, a clear abrogation of her public trust. The allegations against Baugh have been called “legally well-founded” and “serious crimes regarding official misconduct,” that, if convicted, could lead to a prison sentence.

Article IV, Section 7(a) of the Florida Constitution authorizes the Governor to suspend any county officer for malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, and other related grounds. You have availed yourself of this prerogative at least five times while Governor, and such action is clearly warranted in this situation.

I hereby request that you immediately suspend Vanessa Baugh from public office. I expect that, despite her being your noted political ally, you will do so with all due haste in the name of Floridians denied vaccines whose lives hang in the balance.