Gov. Ron DeSantis’ failed presidential marketing campaign and its affiliated tremendous PAC, Never Back Down, spent a mixed $158.5 million in 2023, an eye-popping sum for a candidate who didn’t win a single county within the lone state he competed in.
In complete, the marketing campaign and Never Back Down raised almost $180 million in 2023, in keeping with FEC filings late Wednesday. The report got here out greater than two weeks after he dropped out of the race following a second-place end within the Iowa GOP caucuses to former President Donald Trump.
“I think this remains one of the most epic collapses of a presidential campaign in modern political history,” stated David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from St. Petersburg and co-founder of the Forward Party. “And that’s not hyperbole.”
Never Back Down started with $82 million shifted over from a PAC supporting DeSantis’ 2022 reelection marketing campaign as governor. The group shaped in March “to urge” DeSantis to run for president and launched an anti-Trump advert a month earlier than DeSantis introduced his run in May.
Overall, the PAC raised greater than $145.1 million, in keeping with its FEC submitting, and spent greater than $130 million, leaving a steadiness of about $14.5 million. The marketing campaign and tremendous PAC continued to spend cash in early 2024. Reports on how a lot aren’t due for months.
The DeSantis marketing campaign itself raised about $35 million in 2023, although it solely raised $6.7 million within the ultimate three months of the yr. The marketing campaign had spent about $28 million by Dec. 31.
Despite federal guidelines that forestall coordination between a candidate and a PAC, Never Back Down primarily grew to become DeSantis’ de facto marketing campaign, with its occasions in Iowa and New Hampshire that includes “special guest” DeSantis.
“DeSantis was encumbered by some legal restrictions, but it largely was a DeSantis operation, operating within the required legal constraints,” Jolly stated. “But he populated it with his friends and allies who thought like him, strategized like him and planned to run the campaign as he wanted it to be run. And it is hard to imagine and hard to explain how so much money could be spent for so little results.”
J. Miles Coleman, affiliate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball on the University of Virginia Center for Politics, stated the closest comparability to DeSantis’ marketing campaign was one other Republican Florida governor, Jeb Bush, who alongside together with his related PAC spent $130 million on his equally abridged 2016 presidential marketing campaign.
“This is almost a Florida tradition,” Coleman stated. “Jeb Bush seemed to pioneer the strategy of these super PACs, and DeSantis really sort of took it to the next level.”
DeSantis visited all 99 counties in Iowa throughout a marketing campaign that largely saved him away from Florida, together with flying again to the Hawkeye State simply hours after his State of the State deal with in early January and amid a storm-related state of emergency.
Coleman stated that visiting each county known as “the full Grassley” in Iowa, named for the annual journey by 90-year-old GOP U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.
“Something Grassley is known for is he’s very cheap,” joked Coleman. “So I would say maybe Ron DeSantis needs to ask Chuck Grassley how to get around the state.”
At one level, Never Back Down leaders stated the PAC was planning to spend $100 million on a door-knocking marketing campaign in Iowa and different early-voting states.
Jolly stated that the just about complete deal with Iowa, with little end in return, “says that the money spent by Never Back Down had zero impact. … Every dime of that 100-plus million was spent for nothing.”
Among Never Back Down’s expenditures was $2.75 million to a Club for Growth-aligned tremendous PAC, Win It Back, which launched a sequence of anti-Trump advertisements shortly afterward, Politico first reported.
Even although Never Back Down was a intently DeSantis-aligned operation, the PAC was in turmoil in the beginning of the yr after a sequence of high-profile departures and a Washington Post story that included DeSantis allies claiming there was “mismanagement and conduct issues.”
The PAC introduced layoffs following DeSantis’ distant second-place end in Iowa regardless of a supposed shift to South Carolina, a touch that the marketing campaign was quickly to finish.
Coleman stated the DeSantis marketing campaign revealed the bounds of PAC-campaign coordination.
“You don’t want to be too reliant on your super PAC, because you need your top talent still in-house in your presidential campaign,” Coleman stated. “It could go down as something of a cautionary tale.”
Reports of heavy spending for DeSantis’ personal flights additionally bedeviled the marketing campaign.
Any potential contributors for a future DeSantis run “certainly would need some reassurances,” Coleman stated. “I would at least tell him to cut back on his private jets.”
The DeSantis marketing campaign additionally bought into sizzling water final yr after experiences of high administration officers soliciting cash from lobbyists, in addition to a South Florida Sun Sentinel report that individuals with monetary pursuits earlier than the state authorities have been large marketing campaign donors.
Jolly, a longtime marketing campaign reform advocate courting again to his time in Congress, blasted the loopholes within the legislation that allowed DeSantis’ reelection PAC to show over and change into his presidential PAC, in addition to to change into his de facto marketing campaign itself.
“Every special interest in the state of Florida who gave money to Ron DeSantis’ political committee should feel like they were taken and should feel a little victimized,” Jolly stated.
American marketing campaign finance legal guidelines are a “modern-day scandal and one of the dirtiest parts of politics,” he added.
“DeSantis figured out through his team how to take advantage of every part of the law that would help him, and it helped him spend a whole lot of money,” Jolly stated. “But it didn’t help them win a whole lot of votes. And that’s why he’s back home in Tallahassee.”