It was a photo meant to boost Republican voters, one that showed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis posing in front of a helicopter on the southern border in Texas on Sunday.
But the display creates 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 market rate for noncommercial air travel and reimburse flight providers. In this case, the Texas Department of Public Safety owns the 2008 Eurocopter, according to a Federal Aviation Administration database of aircraft tail numbers.
In addition, Texas ethics rules prohibit officials there from using state resources to support political campaigns.
Mr. DeSantis’s office suggested that he visited the border in a dual capacity, both as governor and presidential candidate, but his official agenda as governor did not state this. Jeremy Redfern, a spokesman for Mr. DeSantis in the governor’s office, referred questions about the helicopter ride to the Texas Department of Public Safety on Wednesday.
That agency said Mr. DeSantis was briefed during his visit on 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 provided by DPS to give Governor DeSantis a better understanding of how Florida’s resources are being used along our southern border and to see the challenges firsthand,” Ericka Miller, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in an email Wednesday.
Mr. DeSantis’ campaign shared the helicopter photo on Twitter on Monday, the same day he presented a series of hard-right immigration policies in a campaign speech in Eagle Pass, a small Texas border town.
Reflecting the division of his duties, Mr. DeSantis wore a short-sleeved white shirt on Sunday that read “Governor Ron DeSantis” on the right and “DeSantis for President” on the left.
Mr DeSantis’ use of the taxpayer-funded helicopter was first reported by The Daily Beast, who also noted that he took a boat trip on the Rio Grande as part of his visit. A Fox News reporter accompanied him sky and with water.
That boat belongs to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NewsMadura confirmed. The state agency had already deployed the ship there through a mutual aid arrangement and as part of the Operation Lone Star program.
Mr. Redfern denied in a statement that there was anything improper about Mr. DeSantis’ ride on the Florida taxpayer’s boat.
“Participating in a routine patrol with FWC is not outside the governor’s job as chief executive of the state,” he said.
Myles Martin, a spokesman for the Federal Election Commission, said in an email Wednesday that he could not comment on specific candidates or their activities. But he pointed out that federal campaign finance rules require candidates to reimburse federal, state or local government agencies when they use aircraft they own to campaign.
Political committees must also reimburse costs associated with other means of transportation, including boat trips.
Mr. DeSantis has previously faced allegations that he inappropriately blurs the lines between his official duties and his campaign.
As Mr. DeSantis prepared to sign Florida’s record-breaking budget earlier this month, state lobbyists and lawmakers said the governor’s staff called them to ask for campaign contributions or political support — help that would normally be provided by members. of Mr. DeSantis’ campaign. The talks left lobbyists and lawmakers worried that Mr. DeSantis would veto their projects from the budget if they failed to comply, they said.
And when Mr. DeSantis signed the budget into law, he vetoed several projects sponsored by state Senator Joe Gruters, a Republican who has endorsed former Republican front-runner Donald J. Trump. Mr. Gruters accused the governor of retaliation, calling him “petty-minded” 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 press conference last week in Tampa, Mr. DeSantis that there was nothing wrong with aides in his office supporting his campaign in their “free time.”
But Nikki Fried, the chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, filed state ethics and election ethics complaints against three top officials in the governor’s office. “Any reasonable person could infer from the news coverage that our governor was holding the state budget hostage in exchange for political approval and donations — actions that are both unethical and illegal,” Ms. Fried said in a statement.
Earlier this year, Mr. DeSantis also signed a bill that shields his travel records from public disclosure, preventing taxpayers’ money from being used to cover security and other costs during his campaign trips.