Florida Governor Ron DeSantis makes his first trip to the early voting state of Iowa for a book tour stop at the Rhythm City Casino Resort in Davenport, Iowa, U.S. March 10, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
By Jason Lange and Alexandra Ulmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A fundraising group tied to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis raised close to $10 million in February, a major haul as the Republican eyes running for president next year, according to a financial disclosure released on Friday.
The disclosure by the Friends of DeSantis group, which was formed to back DeSantis’ campaigns in Florida’s 2018 and 2022 gubernatorial elections, points to it having about $80 million in the bank at the end of last month.
Even though DeSantis easily won re-election months earlier in November, Friends of DeSantis last month took in some of its biggest contributions in years, including $2.5 million from billionaire options trader Jeff Yass, the disclosure showed.
Public opinion polls show DeSantis as the strongest threat to former President Donald Trump for their party’s nomination for next year’s presidential contest.
DeSantis made his first trip to the early nominating state of Iowa on Friday as he tests the waters for a presidential bid, only days before Trump is slated to campaign there.
Friends of DeSantis’ bank account puts DeSantis on a similar financial footing as Trump, who unlike DeSantis has formally launched a 2024 presidential campaign.
Trump and an allied Super PAC he has financed reported having close to $80 million across several fundraising accounts at the end of 2022.
Those accounts include Trump’s Save America group, which was registered with election regulators to support allied campaigns rather than his own, but has transferred at least $60 million to a pro-Trump Super PAC expected to support his campaign.
Super PACs are big-money groups that can legally raise and spend limitless sums to help a candidate as long as the spending isn’t controlled by the candidate’s campaign. They typically get substantial funding from the wealthiest Americans.
The Friends of DeSantis group, which is registered in Florida to support DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaigns, would also be unable to legally finance a presidential run by DeSantis.
But Friends of DeSantis is also expected to transfer money to a Super PAC backing the Florida politician’s presidential aspirations.
On Thursday, a former senior official in Trump’s administration announced he had formed a Super PAC with the aim of getting DeSantis to enter the White House race.
Government watchdogs have attempted legal challenges against such transfers in the past and one is currently seeking to block Trump’s financing of the Make America Great Again Inc Super PAC.
But because leadership at the Federal Election Commission typically deadlocks on sensitive partisan questions, the regulator is unlikely to challenge transfers to Super PACs, said Shanna Ports, a campaign finance lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan government watchdog.
“The FEC has laid out a roadmap for how candidates can get away with it,” Ports said.
Paul S. Ryan, an election law expert at the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation, said he was concerned about money from local elections being used in federal campaigns, as state contributions limits can be more lax than federal ones. “The Supreme Court has said repeatedly over decades that big contributions can buy access and influence,” said Ryan.
DeSantis’ political team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Friends of DeSantis said in its disclosure that it has raised $222 million since its founding, including $9.9 million in February, and has spent $140 million.
If DeSantis joins the presidential race, he will also have to compete with former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, as well as other potential candidates such as former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.