DeSantis donors are involved in regards to the marketing campaign
Presidential candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis waves to a crowd at a campaign event June 2, 2023 in Gilbert, South Carolina.
Sean Rayford | Getty Images
A growing group of donors who have supported Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential nomination are concerned about the way his campaign is going, even after he has raised $20 million since running for office in May.
Despite those big fundraising numbers and entering the race on a wave of hype, DeSantis is still well behind leader Donald Trump in polls. The Murdoch family, led by conservative Fox Corp. and News Corp. mogul Rupert Murdoch, is reportedly furious with DeSantis. And as concerns about DeSantis mount across the board, several donors have shared their concerns with fundraisers, according to people familiar with the matter.
Some donors are concerned that the polls suggest DeSantis must climb a potentially insurmountable hill to overtake Trump, these people said. They also worry that Trump has a huge lead over DeSantis when it comes to Republican support in Congress. DeSantis represented Florida in the House of Representatives before winning the governorship.
Many of the individuals declined to be named in this story in order to be able to speak freely about private conversations.
One mega-donor, Ken Griffin, “continues to evaluate the field,” a spokesman for the billionaire Citadel CEO said, referring to the Republican primary. Other candidates include former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and US Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.
“There has been no change in Griffin’s stance on the election,” said spokeswoman Zia Ahmed, who also denied that the Citadel CEO was concerned about DeSantis’ position in public polls.
Days after the publication of this story, Ahmed shared a statement from Griffin with CNBC that specifically made no mention of any candidate currently running for president, but instead provided insight into the Citadel CEO’s expectations for those he endorses.
“My political engagement is driven by values and policies, not poll numbers or personalities. I will continue to support candidates who are relentlessly focused on political solutions that ensure future generations can achieve the American Dream,” Griffin said in a statement to CNBC on Saturday. “I am passionate about ensuring that all children have access to a quality education, that American competitiveness is maintained, that personal liberties are preserved, that our communities are safe and secure, that we are fiscally prudent, and that America’s leadership.” preserved on the global stage. I am committed to America “to be the greatest democracy in the world.”
Griffin told Politico in November that he would support DeSantis if he ran for president. “He has an excellent record as governor of Florida, and as president he would be of great benefit to our country,” Griffin said at the time. Semafor reported in April that Griffin was staying with DeSantis, but The New York Times reported that that same month the billionaire was still contemplating the Republican primary and that his spokesman declined to say what Griffin thought about the presidential election.
Griffin donated over $100 million in the 2022 midterm election, primarily to Republicans running in state and federal elections, including $5 million for DeSantis’ successful run for re-election in Florida.
It’s unclear if Griffin contributed to pro-DeSantis organizations such as Never Back Down, a super PAC supporting DeSantis’ presidential bid. When asked about the top individual donors to this PAC, one person who raises funds for the group did not mention Griffin.
Instead, the person named former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman and VillageMD co-founder and CEO Clive Fields, among others. Businessman Robert Bigelow told Time in April he had donated over $20 million to Never Back Down.
The Super PAC has raised $130 million since the committee was formed in March. But more than half of that sum came from a wire of $82.5 million from a state-level political committee once controlled by DeSantis.
Braman, who has an estimated net worth of $3 billion and supported Senator Marco Rubio, Rhode Island, in his presidential bid, donated $75,000 to the now-defunct DeSantis State Committee, which assigned money to the Never Back Down PAC Campaign Funding Records. Braman’s company, Braman Motors, also donated $100,000 to the state’s DeSantis PAC, according to the documents.
Braman did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Fields did not return a request for comment. Griffin’s spokesman did not say whether the Citadel CEO contributed to the PAC.
Andrew Romeo, a spokesman for the DeSantis campaign, did not dispute any part of this story.
“You could paper the governor’s mansion with the mass of premature political obituaries about Ron DeSantis. Challenging the establishment is never easy — and this campaign to save our nation will be a long, hard fought battle to defeat Joe Biden,” Romeo said. “We are building an organization that will do anything. Ron DeSantis is doing everything he can to win, and as voters across the country continue to hear of his forward-thinking plans to reverse Biden’s failures, he will deserve the nomination.”
Romeo also told CNBC that the campaign has the backing of 259 state lawmakers.
Dave Vasquez, a spokesman for Never Back Down, praised DeSantis’ fundraising success in a statement to CNBC.
“We just raised $150 million to elect Governor Ron DeSantis as the next President of the United States,” Vasquez said shortly after this story was published. “This combined move is the largest in a single quarter for any candidate in this primary. Not only are we outperforming the competition in fundraising, we’re already light years ahead of the competition when it comes to on-site infrastructure — that’s what counts.” Everyone gets so nervous about going up against Governor DeSantis.
DeSantis fundraisers are fighting back
Despite donor concerns, several DeSantis fundraisers are privately voicing their concerns, including pointing out that nationwide polls don’t matter in the state primary, some people said.
Currently, the DeSantis camp is primarily focused on early primary and caucus states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Initial polls suggest DeSantis is trailing Trump in those states as well, but that could change as the campaign nears.
“There’s always someone complaining about something, but Governor DeSantis is campaigning vigorously and introducing himself to the state’s early voters,” Dan Eberhart, a GOP donor and DeSantis bundler, told CNBC. “I still think he’ll win Iowa and New Hampshire in the end.”
The Iowa caucus is scheduled for January.
While things are looking bleak for DeSantis right now, the race is relatively early. The GOP primary debate scheduled for August could give DeSantis a boost. Trump and his associates said he is unlikely to participate in the debate. DeSantis said he will debate in August whether or not Trump shows up.
Hal Lambert, who once raised money for Trump’s presidential campaigns and now helps DeSantis, told CNBC that he’s text-chained with about six other donors and hasn’t heard any problems from them.
“I would tell you this: the people who care about polls obviously have never been involved in presidential campaigns,” Lambert said. “These national surveys are almost meaningless.”
He added that no apparent issues with the campaign would stop DeSantis from raising large amounts of money throughout the summer. DeSantis is hosting a fundraiser in the ritzy Hamptons on Long Island this month, CNBC reported in June.
Lambert said fundraisers are planned in Colorado, Utah and Wisconsin, among others. Another person familiar with the Colorado event said it will be held this month in the ski town of Aspen, known to attract some of the world’s richest people.
According to an invitation to the meeting, DeSantis is scheduled to travel to Cape Cod, Massachusetts for a fundraiser in late July. Geoffrey Rehnert, Co-CEO of Audax Group and former Managing Director of Bain Capital, is listed as co-host of the event.