DeSantis political committee has received close to $900,000 since election

A few prominent backers of Donald Trump are among those sending money the Florida governor’s way.
Gov. Ron DeSantis tosses hats into the crowd during a campaign event at ATMAX Equipment on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, in Tampa.
Gov. Ron DeSantis tosses hats into the crowd during a campaign event at ATMAX Equipment on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Dec. 20, 2022

With the fall of confetti and a fiery victory speech, Gov. Ron DeSantis ended his run for reelection on the night of Nov. 8 after a blowout victory.

That hasn’t stopped the flow of donations to his political committee.

In November, Friends of Ron DeSantis raked in about $5.5 million, most of that coming in on or before Election Day. Still, the committee has received more than 1,000 donations totaling nearly $900,000 since the election, including the rest of November into the first half of December, according to state campaign finance records and data posted on the political committee’s website.

As of early December, the committee had more than $60 million leftover cash on hand. None of these figures include the governor’s separate reelection campaign account, which stopped reporting in early November.

The donations come at a time of sustained presidential buzz surrounding DeSantis. A few of the donors who contributed to DeSantis’ committee in November have also traditionally been backers of former President Donald Trump, who has already announced his 2024 run.

One of those contributors is Rebekah Mercer, who wrote a $25,000 check to DeSantis the day before the election.

Mercer, the daughter of New York hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, is a prominent Republican donor who helped create Parler, a social media site popular with conservatives, and who owns a stake in the alt-right site Breitbart News. The Mercers have also been high-profile backers of former President Donald Trump, though according to a report by CNBC, they are not planning to support Trump’s 2024 bid. Prior to this latest check, Rebekah Mercer had not given to DeSantis since his 2018 campaign for governor.

One of the largest contributions in November came from Trish Duggan, the world’s top donor to Scientology and a Pinellas County resident who gave DeSantis $500,000 on Nov. 4. Duggan, the ex-wife of billionaire venture capitalist Bob Duggan, was a top Republican donor to federal races in the 2020 cycle, according to Politico. Both she and a trust in her name gave millions to a pro-Trump Super PAC that year, federal campaign finance records show, but she has not written a check to that committee since then.

The Tampa Bay Times tried to reach Duggan for comment, sending emails to an attorney who has represented her and to the executive director of Imagine Museum in St. Petersburg, which Duggan founded. Neither one responded.

“You’re seeing (some Trump donors) be more public about that transition of support and I just think it speaks to the continued slow but gradual shift away from the former president towards Ron,” said Stephen Lawson, a Georgia Republican political strategist who was on DeSantis’ 2018 campaign team and who worked for several campaigns during the midterms, including a super PAC supporting Hershel Walker.

After Republicans nationally underperformed in the midterms, “a lot of people in our party are tired of losing and I think Ron provides that alternative,” Lawson added. “When you sort of layer on top of that all the ongoing stuff Trump has got with J6, the Mar-a-Lago documents, the tax stuff, the impeachments ... I think people are increasingly ready to move on.”

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Some recent polls (though not all) support this idea. They include recent surveys by the Wall Street Journal and USA TODAY/Suffolk University, which both found Republican voters favored DeSantis over Trump by double digits.

Also in early November, DeSantis’ committee received more than $16,000 in in-kind contributions listed as “transportation” from Redge Air LLC, a Jacksonville company. The company is the registered owner of a Hawker 800 private jet, according to a Federal Aviation Administration database. Florida governors are prohibited from using state planes for political events, so they sometimes hitch rides on donors’ private planes.

The LLC’s president listed in business filings is Aubrey L. Edge, whom DeSantis in 2020 appointed to the Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s public universities. Edge is the CEO of First Coast Energy L.L.P., a large distributor of Shell gasoline in Florida.

DeSantis’ committee also received a $304,000 donation after the election from a company called Roma-HC Bridge LLC, though it’s unclear who is behind it. In the contribution records, it’s listed as an “entertainment” entity, with its address at a Palm Harbor UPS store. The business is registered in Delaware, a state that provides little public information on corporations.

Separately from the governor’s political committee, the Republican Party of Florida is also collecting contributions from donors who want to fund DeSantis’ second inauguration, which is scheduled for Jan. 3. The sponsorship packages range from $25,000 to $1 million, with some of the highest caliber contributors getting an invitation to a candlelight dinner with the governor.