Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) political operation reported raising $177.4 million through Sept. 9, breaking the gubernatorial fundraising record without adjusting for inflation, a new OpenSecrets analysis of state campaign finance filings found. His reelection campaign has raised over $31.4 million since January 2021, and Friends of Ron DeSantis, his state-level PAC that is not subject to contribution limits, raked in $146 million since January 2019.
Florida voters elected DeSantis to the U.S. House in 2012, where he served three terms before resigning in 2018 to run for governor, which he won by less than 34,000 votes. DeSantis’ first term has been defined by culture war clashes – he’s been the public face of polarizing policies including the so-called “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” which prohibits kindergarten through third-grade teachers from discussing gender and sexual identity in the classroom.
DeSantis took credit Thursday for sending two planes of migrants without notice to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, telling CNN that all American communities should share the “burden.” The latest coordinated effort by Republican governors to protest what Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) – who sent buses of migrants to Vice President Kamala Harris’ home in the District of Columbia on Thursday – said are inadequate federal efforts to “secure” the country’s southern border.
Rumors have circulated that DeSantis is preparing to mount a 2024 presidential run, but he’s downplayed his presidential ambitions by saying the media is “just speculating.” Still, DeSantis has toured battleground states and has commented on Washington politics while on the campaign trail.
One federal political committee, Ready for Ron, asked the Federal Election Commission if it could share a list of over 58,000 supporters and their contact information to “encourage” DeSantis to explore a 2024 presidential bid. The FEC agreed Thursday that Ready for Ron could share the list only before DeSantis was officially “testing the waters” for a presidential run, although the commission still needs to formally vote on the new agreement.
Out of a list of 20 possible presidential contenders compiled by OpenSecrets, DeSantis’ aligned operation raised the most money since January 2021. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) and former President Donald Trump trail behind.
In November, DeSantis will face former Republican Gov. and Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D–Fla.). Crist resigned from the U.S. House on Aug. 31 to focus on his gubernatorial campaign.
Crist has called DeSantis an “autocrat that would love to be the dictator of Florida.” DeSantis told supporters in a fundraising email Friday that “we face a very serious threat from far-Left Biden sycophants like Charlie Crist.”
A recent poll, commissioned by the AARP and conducted by Fabrizio Ward and Impact Research, found DeSantis with a 3-percentage point lead over Christ. DeSantis had 92-in-100 odds of winning reelection, an analysis by the opinion polling outlet FiveThirtyEight found.
Crist will also have an uphill battle when it comes to fundraising. His political operation reported raising nearly $20 million through Sept. 9, almost nine times less than the new gubernatorial fundraising record holder.
DeSantis and Crist are scheduled to square off in a televised debate on Oct. 12.
The road to the record
DeSantis already set a new record for gubernatorial fundraising without candidate self-financing, and his new fundraising record surpasses two candidates that contributed tens of millions of dollars to their gubernatorial campaigns.
The previous record-holder was Meg Whitman, who ran unsuccessfully for California governor in 2010. The former eBay, Hewlett Packard and Quibi CEO raised $178.6 million — more than any other gubernatorial candidate since 1990, without adjusting for inflation.
Whitman’s socially moderate Republican campaign gained some momentum from her name recognition as a Silicon Valley executive. Unlike DeSantis, she reached the groundbreaking total by giving $144.2 million to her campaign. Her net worth is $3.3 billion.
Pritzker nearly surpassed Whitman’s record during his 2018 campaign, also through self-financing. Pritzker, a billionaire whose father managed and developed the Hyatt Hotel chain, gave his campaign $172 million and raised $4 million more.
DeSantis, whose net worth is just $319,000, has not reported personal contributions to his campaign or state-level PAC. But the governor has received donations from several GOP megadonors.
DeSantis’ reelection campaign has been backed by at least 42 billionaires and members of billionaire families, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Zac Anderson reported. The billionaires come from 15 states and only 17 of them gave to DeSantis in 2018.
Billionaire space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow made headlines in July when he donated $10 million to DeSantis’ state-level PAC, Friends of Ron DeSantis — the largest single individual contribution in Florida’s record. Hedge fund billionaires Ken Griffin and Paul Tudor Jones are also big donors to Friends of Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis’ largest donor this year is the Republican Governors Association, a 527 organization dedicated to getting Republican governors elected, which gave $17.4 million to his campaign committee and Friends of Ron DeSantis.
The governor’s state-level PAC also received big checks from the Florida Prosperity Fund, the Seminole Tribe of Florida and conservative political group Club For Growth as well as millions in in-kind contributions from the Florida Republican Party.
Reporting from Open Secrets.