Florida governor clashes with “60 Minutes” over COVID vaccine rollout

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced a COVID-19 vaccine distribution partnership with Publix grocery stores weeks after the company gave $100,000 to his PAC, CBS’ “60 Minutes” reported Sunday, citing campaign finance records. DeSantis and Publix deny any wrongdoing.

Why it matters: DeSantis has been criticized for directing vaccines toward wealthy communities, with some who benefitted from the vaccine pop-ups also donating to the governor’s political action committee, per Axios’ Tampa Bay reporter Ben Montgomery.

State Democratic leaders have asked the Department of Justice to investigate the allegations.

Driving the news: The “60 Minutes” program highlighted reports of “vaccine favoritism,” with Florida’s poorer communities being left behind in the rollout, noting there’s no Publix in Belle Glade in Palm Beach County.

State Democratic Rep. Omari Hardy told the show “you have lots of folks who don’t have cars” in the community and that it’s a round trip of over two hours with 34 stops to the nearest Publix 25 miles away.

“Before, I could call the public health director. She would answer my calls. But now if I want to get my constituents information about how to get this vaccine I have to call a lobbyist from Publix? That makes no sense,” Hardy added. “They’re not accountable to the public.”

Of note: “60 Minutes” aired footage of CBS’ Sharyn Alfonsi confronting DeSantis at a press conference south of Orlando last month over the donation report, which DeSantis called “wrong.”

Alfonsi narrated that Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said DeSantis “never met with her about the Publix deal.”

It cut back to her exchange with DeSantis, with Alfonsi saying: “The criticism here is that is pay for play, governor.”

DeSantis called the claim “a fake narrative,” adding that he met with local officials to discuss options.

For the record: The donation is the latest in controversial political spending by associates and beneficiaries of Publix.

Heiress Julie Jenkins Fancelli donated about $300,000 to fund the rally that preceded the U.S. Capitol riot, Axios Tampa Bay’s Montgomery and Selene San Felice report.

The popular grocery chain employs 225,000 people and did $38.1 billion in retail sales in 2019, per Montgomery and San Felice, the reporters note.

What they’re saying: Publix said in a statement to CBS, “The irresponsible suggestion that there was a connection between campaign contributions” made to DeSantis and “our willingness to join other pharmacies” supporting Florida’s vaccine rollout is “absolutely false and offensive.”

“We are proud of our pharmacy associates for administering more than 1.5 million doses of vaccine to date and for joining other retailers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia to do our part to help our communities emerge from the pandemic,” the statement added.

Representatives for DeSantis, Publix and CBS did not immediately respond to Axios’ request for comment.