Fundraising triggers fresh questions over DeSantis campaign

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More than two-thirds of Ron DeSantis’s donations have come from individuals who have maxed out their contributions and cannot donate again to his primary campaign, raising questions about the sustainability of the Florida governor’s challenge to Donald Trump.

While DeSantis brought in a sizeable $20.1mn in the second quarter, according to the latest campaign finance disclosures, just 15 per cent of his donations came from small donors. More than two-thirds came from deep-pocketed contributors who have reached the limit of how much they can give.

The fundraising figures, contained in filings made to the Federal Election Commission on Saturday, come as the DeSantis campaign has struggled to gain traction since he entered the race in late May.

DeSantis, 44, was widely seen as the candidate best positioned to challenge Trump for the Republican party’s nomination for president. His political stock rose sharply after last year’s midterm elections, when he won re-election in Florida by a near 20-point margin. But DeSantis has since fallen in national opinion polls.

According to the latest FiveThirtyEight average, Trump has the support of just under half of Republican primary voters, while DeSantis trails in a distant second on 21 per cent. Other candidates — including Trump’s vice-president Mike Pence, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley — are polling in the single digits.

The latest fundraising figures raise fresh questions about the DeSantis campaign operation.

The $20.1mn haul puts him in second place in terms of total receipts behind Trump. Yet around $17mn of that came from donors who contributed at least $200, while only $2.9mn came from those who gave less than that sum. Campaign experts often look to the share of small-dollar donors as an indication of a candidate’s grassroots support.

Nearly $14mn of the donations came from donors who had hit the legal limit for contributions to the DeSantis primary campaign. Under current federal laws, individuals can donate a maximum of $3,300 to a primary campaign and the same amount again to a general election campaign should DeSantis become the Republican nominee.

DeSantis is expected to court more wealthy donors next week, with a fundraiser in the Hamptons on Thursday. The Florida governor is also set to make campaign stops in South Carolina, a key early voting state, in the coming days.

The latest FEC filings also show the DeSantis campaign spent $7.8mn in the second quarter, with around $1mn spent on payroll-related expenses for nearly 100 people on the campaign’s staff. Politico first reported at the weekend that DeSantis had fired “fewer than 10” staffers in recent days.

DeSantis finished the quarter with $12.2mn cash on hand. That compares to Trump, who had $22.5mn in the bank, and Tim Scott, the Republican senator from South Carolina, who ended the quarter with $21.1mn cash on hand.

Ramaswamy, who has an estimated net worth of more than $500mn, ended the quarter with $9mn in the bank after loaning $15.3mn of his own money to his campaign.

Pence posted disappointing fundraising figures, with $1.2mn in receipts. However, he appeared to operate on a shoestring budget and spent less than $75,000 in the second quarter, finishing the period with $1.1mn cash on hand.

Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, showed a similar spending pattern. Christie raised $1.7mn but spent just $66,000 in the second quarter, finishing the period with $1.6mn in the bank.

The latest FEC filings do not include detailed accounting of funds raised by political action committees that are able to raise money for candidates with fewer restrictions. The super Pacs are required to file paperwork with the FEC at the end of July.

Those filings are expected to shed more light on the candidates’ campaigning apparatuses. The DeSantis campaign has leaned heavily on Never Back Down, the super Pac supporting his run which said earlier this month that it had raised $130mn in the year to date.

The Trump team has also relied heavily on super Pac support. It has reported $36mn in the year to date, but nearly all of that was the result of transfers from Save America, his joint fundraising committee.

DeSantis pushed back on the suggestion that his fundraising figures were disappointing, telling Fox News Channel on Sunday: “We were five and a half weeks as a candidate in the second quarter for fundraising. We raised more money than Joe Biden did in the second quarter, who’s the sitting president, and we raised more money than Donald Trump did into his campaign.”

The Biden campaign said on Friday that, together with the Democratic National Committee, it had raised $72mn in the second quarter to spend on the president’s re-election bid. However, the FEC filings at the weekend showed that around $20mn of that haul was brought in by the Biden campaign, with the bulk of the money being funnelled through the DNC.

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