A A slew of billionaires and other wealthy businessmen have continued to push Ron DeSantis, as the Florida governor is expected to unveil a 2024 White House bid and compete with former President Donald Trump on the national stage. according to disclosures reviewed by the Washington Examiner.
DeSantis has traveled to primary battleground states like New Hampshire, Nevada and Iowa and may be preparing to announce his presidential bid at the end of Florida’s legislative session in May, according to multiple reports. Tension has recently flared among the governor’s donors following his signing of a six-week abortion ban, with some high-profile figures reportedly wanting DeSantis to distance himself from the more conservative cultural policies championed by Trump and his followers.
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“It takes a certain amount of money to be competitive, but I don’t think donors and money are the determining factor in this race,” Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist and CNN commentator, told the Washington Examiner. “What will be decisive is whether DeSantis can solidify the non-Trump wing of the party behind him, and whether more than half of the party wants to do something different.”
“It’s a two-step process,” added Jennings, who worked on the presidential campaigns of former President George W. Bush and in his administration under senior adviser Karl Rove. “It requires money, but it’s not the only thing it requires.”
DeSantis is being fueled by deep-pocketed donors who have long asserted themselves as staples of the conservative giving machine, including real estate mogul Robert Bigelow. The owner of the privately held hotel chain Budget Suites of America and founder of the aeronautical company Bigelow Aerospace, claims to have given $20 million to Never Back Down, a super PAC trying to want the governor to the presidency, Time reported.
Bigelow also gave $10 million to the governor’s state political action committee in July 2022, which was believed to be the largest campaign check in the history of Florida politics, according to finance disclosures from the campaign He directed more than $9 million to the Republican Governors Association in 2021, while a donor-registered limited liability corporation called Magnet gave the group $3 million, according to corporate records and multiple reports.
“I’m going to give him more money and I’m going to run out of food,” Bigelow, who is just starting to financially support DeSantis, told Time.
Trump has so far appeared to be the favorite to win the 2024 Republican presidential primary, with DeSantis in second place, well ahead of former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), entrepreneur and author Vivek Ramaswamy. , and former Vice President Mike Pence, according to a RealClearPolitics average. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced a 2024 presidential exploratory committee in mid-April and has polled an average of 1.6%.
DeSantis has 23.4 percent, while Trump leads with 52.4 percent, according to RealClearPolitics. On April 4, the Trump campaign sent a memo to DeSantis’ donors citing a poll that found the former president leading President Joe Biden in a general election matchup. It alleged that Trump is “building the support of the majority” and touted him as the most likely “to defeat Joe Biden.”
FILE – In this Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, file photo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Florida. Florida filed a lawsuit against President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday, September 28, 2021, claiming its immigration policy is illegal and DeSantis signed an order barring state agencies from helping with the relocation of undocumented immigrants arriving in the state. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee. File)
Ken Griffin, the billionaire CEO of multinational hedge fund Citadel, is another major donor to DeSantis. He directed $5 million to the governor’s state committee in April 2021, after a combined $5.75 million he gave in 2018, campaign finance disclosures show. According to multiple reports, Griffin will continue to support DeSantis, despite the fact that a handful of wealthy donors have declined their support.
During the 2022 midterm elections, Griffin contributed more than $100 million to state and federal Republicans. The CEO said in March that he would “love to see” the governor “run” for the presidency, adding that he disagrees with DeSantis when it comes to his retaliation against Disney for fighting back with his Act of Parents’ Rights in Education, which aims to curb gender-based curriculum in schools and has been dubbed by Democrats the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Another DeSantis donor over the years, Hungarian billionaire Thomas Peterffy, appears to have decided to no longer support the governor.
Peterffy, who has doubled the governor’s campaign with $570,000 since 2018, said in April that he and “his friends” would not support DeSantis because of his “stance on abortion and the ban on books”. His reference was apparently related to the governor’s signing of the Parents’ Rights to Education Act and the Stop Woke Act, an education bill that seeks to restrict gender- and sex-based curricula in schools, as well as the ban on abortion for six weeks.
“Republican voters worried about President Trump’s ongoing losing streak can take heart from the fact that Gov. DeSantis is raising competitive money and earning accolades based on a substantial track record of success, not just complaints about legal issues related to paying porn stars like President Trump,” a senior Republican strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of business conflicts of interest, told the Washington Examiner.
The strategist added, “Unless President Trump plans to be impeached once a month, it’s hard to see him competing financially with DeSantis or any Democrat going into 2024.”
Other wealthy individuals who have given to the governor’s campaign include Jude and Christopher Reyes, co-chairmen of food and beer distributor Reyes Holdings, Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, billionaire commodities magnate Richard Uihlein and his wife Elizabeth Uihlein, hedge fund. Manager Paul Tudor Jones II, former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. and businessman James Pallotta, show the revelations.
There is doubt as to whether some of these donors, who have supported Trump in the past, will make a full U-turn on DeSantis in 2024. The Kings, for example, have pushed Trump through donations in the past, as has Marcus . So have the Uihleins, who are undecided on who they will support in the election and are watching the polls to see how things shape up, according to a source close to the couple.
Meanwhile, pro-DeSantis super PACs are spending huge sums of money and recruiting top Republican operatives who hail from Trumpworld.
Never Back Down is directed by former Trump Department of Homeland Security official Ken Cuccinelli. It also features communications veterans Erin Perrine and Matt Wolking, who worked on Trump’s 2020 campaign. A recent Never Back Down hire was Jeff Roe, who has been a top adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA), among other influential voices on the right.
“Having just lost 2020 and 2022, Donald Trump is asking undefeated conservative leader Ron DeSantis not to run for president because he knows Governor DeSantis is the future and he’s going to win,” Perrine told the Washington Examiner. “Empowered Trump [Dr. Anthony] Fauci when he should have fired him, and criticized open states like Florida when he should have supported them. As president, DeSantis won’t seize the swamp, but he will protect Social Security and Second Amendment rights and finish building the border wall.”
Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, founding partner of the United Self-Defense Law Firm, testifies before the Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016. and Related Senate Agencies on gun control proposals.
(AP Photo/Molly Riley)
Never Back Down has grossed $30 million since its March 9 release, according to reports in early April. Its disclosures won’t be public until July, and the super PAC did not provide the Washington Examiner with updated fundraising numbers.
On Thursday, Never Back Down sent hundreds of thousands of mailers to voters in Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire. The super PAC also announced the launch of its first television ad, which will hit the former president for criticizing DeSantis instead of Democrats.
A second group, called Ready for Ron, launched a $3.3 million ad campaign in January in support of DeSantis. Shaun McCutcheon, a businessman and electrical engineer running as a Libertarian candidate in the 2020 presidential election, loaned the super PAC $100,000 in June 2022, records show. The super PAC disclosures also won’t be public until July.
On hand for Ron’s lawyer is Dan Backer, who has also given to the super PAC, but wouldn’t tell the Washington Examiner how much. Backer is a longtime Republican campaign finance attorney and also represents the pro-Trump super PAC Great America.
“At the end of the day, me and Shaun are the two biggest donors right now,” Backer said in an interview, noting that there is a third known GOP donor whose name he declined to reveal. “I’ve always believed in the power of the grassroots as a movement. The average gift size is less than $100.”
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“I personally like Donald Trump,” Backer said. “If he’s the candidate, I’ll vote for him. But there’s no way he’s going to win the general election. It’s not possible. And that’s all that matters. If you can’t win, I can’t support you.”
The DeSantis and Trump campaigns did not respond to requests for comment.