Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, is heavily reliant on an outside group funded by a small batch of wealthy individuals in his bid for the GOP presidential nomination. The Never Back Down PAC, the first official filing of which was made public on Monday night, revealed that DeSantis stands to benefit from the nearly $100 million in funds the organization had as of June 30. With this substantial financial backing, DeSantis’s campaign will largely be fueled by a shadow campaign that is legally prohibited from coordinating with the candidate.
The super PAC’s primary donor is Robert Bigelow, who contributed a staggering $20 million, accounting for more than half of the total individual contributions raised by Never Back Down since March. Bigelow has been a long-time supporter of DeSantis and previously donated $10 million to a Florida state PAC set up by the governor. In May, that PAC, now known as Empower Parents, transferred $82.5 million to Never Back Down, making it the largest injection of cash into the organization.
Bigelow, a Las Vegas real estate tycoon, is known for his eccentricities and has expressed interest in studying life after death and unidentified flying objects over his Utah ranch. He has even claimed that he would “go without food” to support DeSantis’s White House ambitions.
The majority of the funds raised by Never Back Down came from businesspeople based in Florida, as per the filing covering contributions made through June 30. One such donor is Jay Odom, a real estate developer who gave $400,000 to the super PAC. Odom was previously indicted in 2013 for involvement in a straw donation scheme that supported Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Other significant contributions include $2 million each from Stefan Brodie, the founder of a Pennsylvania chemical company, and Douglas Leone, managing partner of Sequoia Capital. Additionally, Saul Fox, a prominent GOP donor and collector of Israeli antiquities, donated $1 million, as did David Millstone, CEO of Standard Industries, and Elizabeth and Richard Uihlein, a well-known Republican donor couple.
DeSantis’s reliance on major donors contrasts with the small-dollar contributions that were a hallmark of former President Donald Trump’s campaign. Although DeSantis has received support from a wide array of GOP donors, a number of prominent conservative megadonors who have previously backed DeSantis have yet to contribute to Never Back Down.
Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, who has reportedly become disillusioned with Trump and is searching for an alternative Republican candidate to support, was notably absent from the Monday night release. Griffin’s associates recently revealed his frustration with DeSantis’s positions on various issues, including international relations, gender and sexuality education, and his ongoing dispute with Disney.
Furthermore, Jeff Yass, a highly affluent individual and early investor in TikTok, did not continue his financial support of DeSantis through Never Back Down, as indicated in the filing. Yass had previously contributed $2.6 million to the governor’s state committee earlier this year. However, Yass did donate to two PACs supporting other GOP presidential candidates this year, including $600,000 to Opportunity Matters Action Fund, which backs Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, and $250,000 to Tell It Like It Is, which supports former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
While the DeSantis campaign is legally prohibited from coordinating with its aligned super PAC, there is often overlap between the two entities on the campaign trail. Never Back Down has already spent $33.7 million by the end of June, effectively becoming an extension of the campaign itself, even hosting DeSantis on recent bus tours in Iowa. In contrast, DeSantis’s official campaign spent $7.9 million between its launch in May and the end of June.
Never Back Down allocated $4 million for canvassing, $1.5 million for polling, and $1 million for payroll, indicating that it is now paying for standard campaign activities. Additionally, as the DeSantis campaign downsizes its staff as a cost-cutting measure to stabilize its financial situation, Never Back Down is considering absorbing some of the dismissed employees.
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