Home U.S. News DeSantis’s Super PAC Burned Through $34 Million as He Slid in Polls

DeSantis’s Super PAC Burned Through $34 Million as He Slid in Polls

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DeSantis’s Super PAC Burned Through $34 Million as He Slid in Polls

The super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida spent nearly $34 million in recent months, pouring money into voter outreach, advertising, polling, consultants and other expenses as his standing in the polls steadily slipped.

Newly released financial filings show that the super PAC, Never Back Down, had nearly $97 million in cash on hand at the end of June, vastly more money than other Republicans in the race, including the front-runner, former President Donald J. Trump.

But that haul may end up being a high-water mark. Since the close of the filing period, some top Republican donors have begun backing away from Mr. DeSantis as his campaign has floundered, according to two people familiar with the candidate’s and the super PAC’s fund-raising.

At the same time, the super PAC is spending aggressively — particularly on a sprawling voter contact operation in the early states. Super PACs are independent committees that can accept unlimited contributions from donors in support of a candidate, but cannot coordinate with the campaign itself.

Mr. DeSantis and his allies, however, are testing the limits of the campaign finance system. Never Back Down isn’t just supplementing the campaign’s work; it has taken over nearly every aspect of the DeSantis campaign — staging events that the candidate attends as a “special guest,” running a bus tour through Iowa and paying people to knock on voters’ doors to sell them on the virtues of Mr. DeSantis.

It remains unclear whether Mr. DeSantis’s allies will be able to continue to raise the large sums of money required to sustain this gargantuan effort. His campaign has already fired more than a third of its staff to cut costs, and his super PAC is bearing even more of the burden of his daily operation. The filings showed that the super PAC had received donations of more than $1 million from just seven wealthy Republicans, or firms connected to them. One of those donors, Saul Fox, also gave money to a super PAC supporting Mr. Trump.

Officials with the group falsely exaggerated the strength of their early fund-raising, records show. They publicly claimed at the end of March that they had brought in $30 million; the filings show the actual amount was just under $23 million.

The super PAC did not reach $30 million until almost two months later, the week that Mr. DeSantis formally became a presidential candidate. An official with the group did not explain why they had initially provided a misleading number.

When Mr. DeSantis’s super PAC made the earlier claim about its fund-raising, the money raised came primarily from a single megadonor, Robert Bigelow, a real estate and aerospace mogul from Las Vegas.

The DeSantis super PAC was funded chiefly by Mr. DeSantis’s state committee, which transferred $82.5 million to it. The super PAC raised $48 million from other donors and spent $33.8 million, more than two-thirds of all the money it raised from new contributors.

More than half of its spending — over $18 million — was routed through various entities connected to Jeff Roe, the group’s chief strategist, who has served as a top adviser to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and to the campaign of Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia. Mr. Roe’s company, Axiom Strategies, either owns those firms or has invested in them, according to a company document. (A Never Back Down official insisted that the polling firm WPA Intelligence should not count as one that Axiom had a real stake in.)

Never Back Down also made two payments totaling $343,757 to a limited liability corporation called N2024D for “transportation management/travel service.” The company, which was registered days before Mr. DeSantis entered the race, also received money from Mr. DeSantis’s campaign, financial filings show.

On Monday, Chris Jankowski, the chief executive of Never Back Down, sent donors a memo to assuage potential concerns about spending. It provided an unusual level of disclosure to donors, detailing who is getting paid what by the super PAC in a proactive attempt to fend off questions of profiteering for a $130 million organization that emerged out of nowhere in just over 100 days.

The memo said that four out of five dollars were going to voter contacts and that AxMedia, a company controlled by Mr. Roe that was hired to place television ads, is receiving less of a percentage than the industry standard. It also said that Mr. Roe’s firm provided an in-kind donation of $409,000 for travel and meals, and maintained that the firm Axiom operated at a net loss for the reporting period.

Another $2.8 million went to a company called Blitz, which is owned by GP3, a company partly controlled by Phil Cox, an adviser to Mr. DeSantis who spent a stint with the super PAC and is now informally helping the campaign.

The memo also extolled Never Back Down’s efforts to promote Mr. DeSantis after Mr. Trump’s first indictment in April with an ad blitz it described as the “surge.” It also argued that the super PAC helped Mr. DeSantis maintain his standing in early states at a challenging moment when a pro-Trump super PAC was attacking him.

“Every conversation at the door, every text message reply is making us smarter and more efficient,” Mr. Jankowski said in a statement. “We are running a full-scale operation that has never been done before at this level by either party. Donald Trump is using most of his donors’ money to cover his legal fees.”

Never Back Down’s $96.7 million war chest overshadows that of the super PAC backing Mr. Trump’s campaign, which entered July with $30 million on hand, the filings showed. Donations to Make America Great Again Inc., a Trump-aligned super PAC, have picked up as Mr. Trump’s lead over Mr. DeSantis has widened. Even as Mr. Trump’s dominance over the field has appeared to solidify in polls, his legal battles have drained finances from his political action committee.

In an interview with Bret Baier on Fox News that aired Monday evening, Mr. DeSantis argued that he was better equipped than Mr. Trump to defeat President Biden in a general election.

“The polls that come out, I beat Biden in Georgia, Trump doesn’t,” the governor said. “I beat Biden soundly in Arizona. Trump doesn’t. Those are just the realities.”

Mr. DeSantis’s campaign confirmed later that he was referring to two surveys conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a polling firm working for his campaign. One survey, a poll from July involving voters in Arizona, showed Mr. DeSantis faring better against Mr. Biden than Mr. Trump. A survey of voters in Georgia found a similar dynamic, though it took place in June, and the Florida governor’s polling has suffered a precipitous drop since then.

A New York Times/Siena College poll conducted in late July found that 58 percent of Republicans surveyed said it was Mr. Trump, not Mr. DeSantis, who was best described by the phrase “able to beat Joe Biden.”

Ruth Igielnik contributed reporting.

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