Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat, mounted her campaign for governor with a rebuke of conditions under two decades of Republican leadership.
“I’m here to break the rigged system in Florida,” Fried said in her June 1 video announcement. “It’s corrupt. It’s anti-democratic. And it’s time for something new.”
Asked about her campaign, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis dismissed Fried as someone who is more show than substance and “has done nothing in office.”
“She put her face, spent millions of dollars to put her face on every gas pump across this state, purely to boost her own image at your expense as a taxpayer,” DeSantis said June 2.
Fried’s photo had been on many gas pumps in Florida. She added it to the customary inspection sticker that verifies that the pump is delivering the correct amount of gas and does not have a card skimmer. Those inspections are a standard part of the Agriculture and Consumer Services Department that Fried oversees.
But those stickers didn’t cost millions of dollars. The cost was about $5,000. We asked DeSantis’ office about this, and they said they would look into the labor costs. We did not hear further.
Fried’s campaign sent us two invoices from vendors: One for 120,000 stickers bought by Fried’s Republican predecessor, and one for 120,000 with her picture.
The stickers the department bought in 2014 under Commissioner Adam Putnam cost $5,022. His face was not on the stickers.
When we contacted the Iowa-based vendor, the sales department told us the 120 rolls purchased would have had either 500 or 1,000 stickers per roll. (The higher number seems more likely; otherwise, the state would have spent $5,000 for half as many stickers as Fried purchased.)
The 120,000 stickers bought on Fried’s watch from a Tallahassee vendor cost $5,027.16.
From these records, it looks like Fried’s department spent $5.16 more than in 2014 for the same number of stickers under Putnam.
The sticker chosen by Fried, the only Democrat elected statewide, did not sit well with state Republican lawmakers.
The Legislature in 2019 reacted to the stickers with Fried’s photo by adding a clause to the budget to bar them. By 2020, the Agriculture Department had changed the design for new stickers, but the old ones remained. In February 2020, lawmakers threatened to put a hold on $19.7 million in spending until the department submitted a plan for removing the stickers with Fried’s photo. The department removed the stickers and replaced them with ones lacking Fried’s face.
Fried is far from the first politician to use official business to boost her name recognition. The doyen of the practice was North Carolina Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry who, starting in 2005, put her photo on every elevator certificate in the state. It seemed to work. One analysis found that come election time, Berry, a Republican, did better in counties with a higher count of elevators per 1,000 residents.
In the pre-digital days, Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer — who served from 1971 to 1987 — had every bus stop bench and construction site sign painted with the slogan “William Donald Schaefer and the citizens of Baltimore.”
Schaefer took his cue from Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. Shortly before Schaefer won election in 1970, he toured Chicago where he saw Daley’s name everywhere.
“That’s the way to do it,” he told a Baltimore business leader with him on the trip.
DeSantis said Fried spent millions of taxpayer dollars to put her face on gas pump stickers across Florida.
The sticker with Fried’s image really did happen, but DeSantis’ number is way off — he overshoots by a factor of 400, at least. The most the state paid was about $5,000.
The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate this claim Mostly False.