Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried on Friday said her office has filed a formal complaint against a charity run by Sidney Powell, a former attorney who joined President Donald Trump’s legal team and spewed false voter fraud claims about the 2020 election.
In the complaint, Fried alleges the organization — Defending the Republic — has not registered with the state and is deceptively asking for contributions by telling consumers that it is, in fact, registered.
Fried, a Democrat challenging Trump ally Gov. Ron DeSantis for governor in 2022, denied that the complaint is politically motivated. She pointed to other fraud investigations led by her office, and noted that she was going after Powell because the organization was not following the law.
“If someone is going to defraud people of our state, I have an obligation to defend the people of our state. Regardless of the political organization, regardless of their mission,” Fried told reporters at a press conference in the Capitol in Tallahassee.
Rick Kimsey, the director of Fried’s Division of Consumer Services, said the alleged violations in the complaint, which was served on Wednesday, could result in fines of up to $15,000 if the organization does not register with the state.
“They can do things the right way, and come into compliance with the law, or they can continue to break the law or misrepresent themselves and face fines, court orders and more,” Fried said.
Because the organization is not registered, consumers and the state have no financial information on where the money is going, Fried said.
“For all we know, she [Powell] could be pocketing all the money,” Fried said. We just don’t know. That’s why these laws are in place and the statutes are in place, to make sure that we are doing everything we can to be a consumer watchdog.”
The website used by Defending the Republic prominently displays Powell’s name and her social media accounts, and it says its mission is to “defend and protect the integrity of elections in the United States and the individual rights enshrined in our constitution.”
Fried said the organization was established as a “legal fund involved in conspiracies in the so-called rigged presidential election.”
The basis of Fried’s complaint, however, is not related to voter fraud claims. At its core it is based on the fact that the organization has listed a UPS store in West Palm Beach as its address, and is soliciting contributions from Floridians, without registering with the state.
Fried’s office launched an official investigation after it received a complaint on Nov. 26, 2020, about the Defending the Republic website. Kimsey said the complaint was made by a consumer who indicated the organization run by Powell was “soliciting donations from Florida residents and an unregistered charity.”