How China and a Chicago business owner changed Florida’s laws on owning real estate

by WorldTribune Staff, August 18, 2023

Earlier this year, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed legislation that would have prohibited citizens of seven nations, including China and Venezuela, from buying property anywhere in South Florida, even if they had work permits.

At the time, the owner of Chicago-based Citadel, a hedge fund and financial services company, was planning to build new headquarters in Miami and relocate hundreds of employees that together would cost at least $1 billion.

Ken Griffin moved the Citadel headquarters from Chicago to Miami this year.

The legislation “represented an ideological affront” to Citadel’s founder, Ken Griffin, Bloomberg reported on Aug. 16. Globally, Citadel employs some 4,500 people, with key employees from China, India, and Ecuador, among others.

Griffin, the report said, “assembled a network of influence to rework the proposed law.” The re-worked legislation allows those with work permits to buy land in South Florida.

“The episode demonstrates the power Griffin has amassed in Florida roughly a year after moving from Chicago, becoming a force in local politics, philanthropy and real estate,” the report said.

The property crackdown legislation went into effect in July. DeSantis hailed the law after he signed it as a “stand against the U.S.’s greatest geopolitical threat — the Chinese Communist Party.”

The Biden Department of Justice has said the law violates the constitution and leftist groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have questioned it in courts.

Early drafts of the Florida legislation called for barring all Chinese citizens and others from buying real estate within 20 miles of military bases and critical infrastructure, such as ports, airports and power substations.

“That encompasses most of South Florida, including desirable Miami neighborhoods that would likely be a destination for Citadel employees such as the Brickell financial district, Coconut Grove or Miami Beach, where Griffin has spent hundreds of millions on property,” the Bloomberg report noted.

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Citadel’s lobbyists persuaded Florida lawmakers to carve out an exception for lawful workers and others, the report said. In the final version of the law, those with U.S. visas — excluding tourists — are free to purchase a single property in the Miami enclaves, with restrictions only within a 5-mile radius of military bases.

Griffin said that Florida “is defined by its promise of freedom and economic opportunity, and our state government must continue to reflect and uphold these ideals. We support the freedom of individuals who are lawfully working in the U.S. to purchase homes and we will continue to advocate for those rights.”

Meanwhile, Griffin is reportedly souring on DeSantis after initially supporting him. Griffin donated $5 million to the governor’s re-election campaign last year and said in March “he would love to see” DeSantis run for president.

Griffin, who’s worth almost $37 billion, hasn’t donated to DeSantis’s presidential bid.

“As the presidential campaigns unfold, I am assessing how the policies of each candidate will address the challenges facing our country,” Griffin said in a statement. “I care deeply about individual rights and freedom, economic policies that encourage prosperity and upward mobility, all children having access to a high-quality education, ensuring our communities are safe, and a strong national defense.”

DeSantis has slipped in polls since announcing his candidacy in May and is now significantly behind former President Donald Trump and in a battle for second in the polling with Vivek Ramaswamy.

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