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HomeNewsDeSantis Built a Massive Network of Big Donors. Many Have Ditched Him

DeSantis Built a Massive Network of Big Donors. Many Have Ditched Him

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Former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner was among Ron DeSantis’ biggest boosters during the 2022 midterm election, giving nearly $1 million to his reelection bid. But as he has surveyed the field of GOP candidates for president, Rauner — a wealthy former private equity executive who was DeSantis’ fifteenth biggest donor in last year’s election — has not given any more money to the Florida governor. Rauner told POLITICO he thinks another candidate, former U.N Ambassador Nikki Haley, has a better shot of defeating President Joe Biden than DeSantis.

“I think he’s done a terrific job as governor of Florida, and I’ve been, as I think you know, a big supporter of him in that role,” Rauner said of DeSantis. But, he added, “I think Nikki Haley probably has the best chance to win the general election … I think everyone is trying to sort things out. We gotta win, we gotta win the general.”

Rauner isn’t the only former mega-DeSantis donor who’s refused to open his wallet for DeSantis. Of the 50 donors who gave at least $160,000 in the years leading up to his 2022 reelection campaign, only 16 — less than a third — provided funds to the super PAC Never Back Down, which can receive unlimited contributions, through the end of June. Eight other major donors gave directly to his presidential campaign but not the super PAC.

The top 50 list includes five donors who are now financially supporting rival presidential candidates. And of those who are giving money to the DeSantis campaign or his super PAC, five are splitting their funds with other candidates.

The inability of DeSantis to convert more of his gubernatorial donors into presidential ones is emblematic of a larger shortcoming of his current campaign. And it presents particular problems for the governor precisely because his operation has leaned so heavily on the super PAC to perform basic campaign functions.

Trailing former President Donald Trump by wide margins in Republican primary polls — some of which show him struggling to keep his second-place status — many former contributors to the Florida governor are looking to other candidates or keeping their wallets shut entirely.

DeSantis still has a well-funded effort. Never Back Down had nearly $97 million available to spend as of the end of June, according to the second quarter filings — a figure that far surpasses the super PACs supporting his rivals. That includes the outfit supporting Trump, which reported just short of $31 million in cash on hand.

“Ron DeSantis outraised both Biden and Trump last quarter, and we continue to see overwhelming enthusiasm from grassroots and major supporters chipping in to help our campaign,” said Andrew Romeo, a DeSantis campaign spokesperson. “We look forward to continued fundraising success this quarter as we capitalize on his strong debate performance and momentum in the early states.”

The funds Never Back Down has raised, however, are overwhelmingly drawn from an $82 million transfer from the Florida-based political committee that backed DeSantis’ reelection bid.

And in recent weeks, some of DeSantis’ biggest past donors have come out publicly to say they are holding back on writing checks to the super PAC. That includes hotel and aerospace executive Robert Bigelow, by far the biggest individual contributor to Never Back Down and to DeSantis’ reelection campaign. Last month, Bigelow told Reuters that he would not give further donations to the super PAC unless DeSantis adopted more moderate policies and “until I see that he’s able to generate more [contributions] on his own.”

Billionaire investor Ken Griffin, the second biggest donor to DeSantis’ 2022 campaign, has also withheld his money. Griffin said in a statement that he was “assessing how the policies of each candidate will address the challenges facing our country.”

And this spring, businessman Thomas Peterffy, who gave $3.6 million to DeSantis’ reelection effort — making him the governor’s twenty-fifth biggest contributor — told the Financial Times that he and “a bunch of friends, are holding our powder dry” because of positions the governor had taken on social issues. Peterffy has since wired $2 million to a political committee aligned with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who some donors would like to see enter the Republican primary.

DeSantis’ decision to sign a six-week abortion ban has alienated some big donors, many of whom embrace more moderate positions on social issues. Walter Buckley, a retired venture capitalist who was DeSantis’ tenth-biggest donor in 2022, said the governor’s decision to sign one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country had weakened his political standing. Buckley had given $6,600 to DeSantis’ campaign through the end of June but nothing to Never Back Down. He has given far more — over $500,000 — to support a DeSantis rival: former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

“If it becomes apparent that Ron has boxed himself into a corner … in Florida, and is not going to win because of the consequences, I may not support him. It’s that simple,” Buckley said. “That at this point is really my consternation because I like DeSantis. I think he’s talented, hardworking as hell and smart. But I cannot understand why he took such a hard position in Florida. I think it’s a mistake.”

Griffin, meanwhile, has expressed reservations over DeSantis’ high-profile fight with Disney, according to a person briefed on the investor’s thinking. DeSantis targeted the corporation’s governance board and tax status after it came out against his initiative to restrict discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in the state’s schools.

Other donors have taken issue with DeSantis’ positions on foreign policy; namely his decision to describe the war in Ukraine as a “territorial dispute.” Businessman Chris Reyes, the fifth-biggest donor to DeSantis’ reelection campaign, has privately criticized DeSantis’ posture on the Ukraine-Russia conflict, according to a person familiar with his remarks. So too has Griffin, said the person briefed on his thinking.

A Griffin spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. Reyes, who through the end of the second quarter had not financially backed DeSantis presidential campaign or super PAC, did not respond to a text message requesting comment.

There are indications that the DeSantis team is hurting for resources. Jeff Roe, Never Back Down’s lead strategist, gave a presentation to donors prior to last month’s Republican primary debate in which he pleaded for $50 million to fund the super PAC’s efforts. Roe’s remarks were first reported by CNN and The New York Times.

But any challenges DeSantis faces financially, those close to him say, can also be seen in a positive light: a reflection of his willingness to buck the interests of big donors who are used to getting their way.

“Gov DeSantis wouldn’t let $1 or even $1 billion drive him in a political direction that he doesn’t believe in,” said Roy Bailey, a Republican fundraiser who is helping the candidate. “No amount of political contributions could erode his core values.“

Source : POLITICO

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