Money has been a problem for DeSantis’ campaign. Is it still?

The latest fundraising total falls far short of what former President Donald Trump raised in this same period.
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis shakes hands with supporters after signing up to get on the Republican Presidential Republican Primary ballot at the New Hampshire State House, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, in Concord, N.H.
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis shakes hands with supporters after signing up to get on the Republican Presidential Republican Primary ballot at the New Hampshire State House, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, in Concord, N.H. [ CHARLES KRUPA | AP ]
Published Oct. 16, 2023|Updated Oct. 16, 2023

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign and related political committees raised about $15 million in July through September, new campaign finance records show. It’s a sizable total that was generated during a period of sinking poll numbers, major campaign layoffs and increasing doubts about the viability of his candidacy.

While the total shows resilience in the Florida governor’s fundraising abilities, it also raises daunting questions as DeSantis promises a comeback ahead of Iowa’s caucuses early next year.

The $15 million DeSantis raised falls far short of the $24.5 million reported by former President Donald Trump’s campaign in documents also filed Sunday night. That figure is not comprehensive of all of Trump’s political committees; Trump’s team said it raised $45.5 million in total, as his fundraising shows upward momentum.

In contrast, the amount DeSantis raised in the latest three-month period is less than the roughly $20 million his campaign raised in the month and a half it was active the previous quarter.

DeSantis’ official campaign spent nearly all of the money it raised in the third quarter. It doled out about $2.2 million on travel, one of its largest expense categories, and $1.9 million on payroll and related taxes, for example.

Previously, the DeSantis campaign’s spending faced scrutiny for paying out about 40% of what it raised in the second quarter of the year. That prompted the campaign to lay off more than a third of its staff in July.

DeSantis also appears to have scaled back on what the campaign spent on private planes, after he had become known for preferring them over commercial flights. The cost-cutting measures appeared to have helped. The campaign’s expenses in September were less than half what it shelled out in July.

Thanks to money raised by DeSantis’ other political committees and what was carried over from earlier this year, DeSantis’ operation had about $13.5 million on hand as it entered October. But just $5 million of it was available to be spent on the primary election, the campaign confirmed. Millions more must be held in reserve for the general election, because of legal limits on federal donations.

DeSantis’ political operation has been greatly helped by a cash-flush super PAC, called Never Back Down, which has taken over many duties typically left to campaigns, though it is barred from directly coordinating with the campaign. At the end of June, it had about $97 million cash on hand, though it’s unclear how its fundraising has held up. The super PAC isn’t required to file new paperwork until January.

At a recent campaign event in Tampa, which was part of a quick Florida fundraising swing, DeSantis defended the amount his operation had left in the bank, pointing out that millions of dollars from Trump’s political committees have gone toward legal fees related to his multiple criminal indictments.

“A hundred percent of what we’re doing in our entire universe is being spent on actually delivering the victories that we know we need,” DeSantis said.

And DeSantis has a big expense coming up: The campaign is planning to spend $2 million on its first TV ad buy of the race, to be aired in Iowa — a state that his team increasingly views as make-or-break.

DeSantis has promised “a tremendous victory there” for the Jan. 15 caucuses that will “totally, totally upend all the conventional wisdom.”

The new records show that among larger donors, the governor is still relying heavily on Florida residents, particularly those around Tallahassee. During the third quarter, less than 1% of itemized donations to DeSantis and his committees came from Iowa, about $28,000. Meanwhile, DeSantis raised $4.9 million from Florida residents, amounting to more than a quarter of large donors.

The identities and locations of people who donated less than $200 to DeSantis’ campaign are not revealed in the filings. About 17% of DeSantis’ total raised came from these small-dollar donors, indicating he still relies heavily on more well-heeled backers.

Among DeSantis’ Florida-based contributors is Michael DiNapoli, DeSantis’ beleaguered affordable housing chief who has been placed on paid leave twice in recent months. An internal investigation found he created a hostile work environment, among other problems. DiNapoli donated the legal maximum of $6,600 to the campaign on July 31, the records show, 10 days after he was originally suspended by the housing corporation’s board. DeSantis reinstated him in August. He was placed on administrative leave again by the board in September.