WASHINGTON — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is poised to jump into the fundraising race lead among Republicans seeking the 2024 presidential nomination, with the ability to transfer $75 million — and growing — from his state political committee to a friendly super PAC.
DeSantis, who is expected to announce his candidacy following the end of the state’s legislative session in May, is already leading in some polls of GOP primary voters and has drawn the ire of coup-attempting former President Donald Trump, who had once believed he would coast to the nomination.
The amount DeSantis could transfer is $14 million more than the total that Trump had available at the start of 2023 from his campaign, his fundraising committee and a super PAC controlled by a former aide.
Trump had an additional $18 million in a “leadership PAC,” but that money cannot legally be used to benefit his campaign for the presidency, and he may wind up burning through most of it paying for his various criminal defense lawyers.
DeSantis, because of a loophole effectively codified by the Federal Election Commission last May, will be able to convert money raised to help him get reelected governor into money that can air ads on his behalf, help turn out voters, or any of the other things super PACs can do for candidates.
Neither DeSantis’ nor Trump’s staff responded to HuffPost queries.
An aide to another potential GOP candidate said that the dollar figure would absolutely provide DeSantis with an edge. “There’s no doubt it’s an advantage,” the aide said on condition of anonymity, but added that how DeSantis holds up under national scrutiny and whether actual voters find him likable will matter more.
The $74,832,648 total is the cash that Friends of Ron DeSantis had available on Friday, according to reports the committee posts on its website combined with Florida Division of Elections data. It includes recent donations of $1 million each from Jude and Christopher Reyes, billionaire brothers and co-chairs of Reyes Holdings, a food distribution company, as well as $2.5 million from Jeff Yass, the billionaire investor and co-founder of Susquehanna International Group.
That figure is dramatically more than others seeking or likely to seek the nomination. Former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador Nikki Haley, for example, had just over $2 million in her leadership PAC at the start of the year. (The first filing from her recently announced presidential campaign is not due until the end of March.) And former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began the year with $1.2 million in CAVPAC, a super PAC supporting him.
DeSantis cannot use money raised by a state committee for a federal race. However, thanks to a ruling in a case brought against fellow Floridian and Republican Byron Donalds, he effectively has the green light to cut his ties to the state committee and then have it transfer its remaining cash to a federal super PAC that supports him.
Donalds, a onetime Florida legislator who in 2020 ran for Congress, resigned from a state political committee three days before filing his candidacy. The committee shortly thereafter gave $107,456 to a federal super PAC supporting Donalds, helping him win a crowded GOP primary and then the general election.
The Campaign Legal Center watchdog group filed a complaint against Donalds in August 2020, accusing him of illegally using money raised for state elections in a federal race. But last spring, the three Republican commissioners voted not to pursue the case, resulting in a 3-3 tie.
“The resolution was unfortunately a deadlock, which so often happens with the FEC,” said Saurav Ghosh, the group’s director for federal campaign finance reform. “That’s basically the playbook that DeSantis is going to use.”
Donalds is not the only Florida politician to take advantage of this arrangement. HuffPost found that former state legislator-turned-current congressman Aaron Bean did the same thing in 2022, when his Florida Conservative Alliance disbanded on May 27, six days before Bean filed his candidacy for Congress. Four days after that, his former state committee transferred its remaining $1,148,618 to Keep Florida Red PAC, which then spent $963,867 helping Bean get elected.
Trump, of course, used a similar trick to convert tens of millions of small-dollar donations he collected supposedly to help Republicans win two Georgia Senate seats in the January 2021 runoff elections and then to help Republicans win back Congress in 2022 into money for his own super PAC.
Of the $73 million collected by the pro-Trump Make America Great Again Inc. last year, $60 million came from his Save America “leadership” PAC and $8.9 million from an existing pro-Trump superPAC.
Trump, 76, is under criminal investigation by Georgia prosecutors and the Department of Justice for his attempted coup to remain in power despite losing the 2020 election. The DOJ is also investigating his refusal to hand over top secret documents he had at his Palm Beach, Florida, social club, in defiance of a subpoena.