Ron DeSantis has broken the fundraising record for a US governor’s campaign, in a sign that the Florida Republican is tapping a powerful donor network as he eyes a potential run for the White House in 2024.
According to financial disclosures filed on Friday, he has raised $175.8mn for his campaign committee and his affiliated political action committee Friends of Ron DeSantis during the 2022 cycle.*
That number far surpasses totals amassed by other gubernatorial candidates, excluding money contributed by the candidates themselves. It is millions more than DeSantis’s possible 2024 rival, Texas governor Greg Abbott, has raised in his own 2022 re-election bid.
As of July 30 2022, Abbott had raised $116.8mn. Texas campaign filings are not yet available for the most recent period covered by the DeSantis filings in Florida.
DeSantis’s fundraising is also set to surpass even the $176.7mn raised by former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Meg Whitman, largely through self-funding, during her entire failed bid for governor of California in 2010, and more than the $176.4mn the billionaire and sitting Illinois governor JB Pritzker spent on his own 2018 gubernatorial bid.
The figures from the DeSantis campaign illustrate what many Republican donors say they already knew: that the 44-year-old Florida governor has built one of the most formidable fundraising machines in GOP politics.
“He’s incredibly popular with the grassroots,” said Eric Wilson, a veteran Republican digital strategist. In part, Wilson said, DeSantis’s success with small donors has been thanks to his frequent Fox News appearances — a tactic Donald Trump employed when building his own political base.
“It makes lots of sense that he would generate this level of attention,” Wilson said, “but there’s a lot of credit that needs to go to governor DeSantis and his team insofar as they have built that operation to capture that attention and turn it into grassroots online fundraising.”
Like Trump, DeSantis has positioned himself as an ideological lightning rod on the right. This week, the governor sent two planeloads of migrants to the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts in a bid to provoke east coast liberals over their immigration policies, which he and some other Republican leaders blame for increased numbers of migrants at the southern US border.
The governor has also sparred with one of his state’s biggest corporations — Disney — over Florida’s so-called Don’t Say Gay law, which bars public educators from discussing gender and sexual identity in elementary school classrooms.
The controversial policies have thrust DeSantis into the national spotlight, allowing him to raise money on a scale that few of his fellow 2024 contenders have been able to achieve, Republican strategists and fundraisers said.
“He’s been successful at basically all levels of GOP fundraising,” said Rob Jesmer, a Republican consultant and former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “I think people view him as the future of the Republican party in a way very few others are viewed.”
One Republican fundraiser who has worked with some of DeSantis’s current and former advisers said his fundraising efforts bore many similarities to Trump’s own grassroots fundraising operation. Ninety-two per cent of DeSantis’s base is made up of more than 130,000 individual donors, each of whom contributed less than $200 each to his campaign this cycle.
“He has a tonne of low-dollar and national money coming in without really having to make the push for it,” said the fundraiser, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely.
But DeSantis has also cultivated a number of high-level donors, including the billionaire Ken Griffin, who recently relocated his business from Chicago to Miami, as well as Richard and Liz Uihlein.
It is these kinds of donors that he would need to push to cultivate should he decide to run in 2024, the fundraiser said.
*This story has been amended to correct the total money raised by DeSantis in the 2022 campaign cycle