DeSantis’ allies could move millions for the presidential bid


Allies of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis plan to execute a controversial money transfer to free up tens of millions of dollars to support his planned 2024 presidential campaign.

DeSantis, widely seen as former President Donald Trump’s potential main Republican rival, won his gubernatorial race in 2018 and easily won re-election in 2022 with the help of a deep-pocketed state political committee. . The group has raised more than $225 million for DeSantis and currently has close to $86 million in cash.

But if DeSantis decides to run for president — as he’s expected to do in years to come weeks – it is legally forbidden to throw this war chest in his federal campaign chest. This is because federal law prohibits the transfer of political funds at the state level in a national election.

Instead, the governor’s allies could try to transfer them to a pro-DeSantis federal super PAC, which must remain independent of his potential presidential run. The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the situation, said reported that these plans are underway.

“This is the path we expect from DeSantis,” said Shanna Ports, senior legal counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit government watchdog, in an interview.

The Ports Group argues that such a transfer from a candidate-controlled state committee to a federal super PAC is illegal. But other experts disagree, and Ports acknowledged that the Federal Election Commission “hasn’t had the teeth to enforce the law in this area.”

There’s a story to back up that claim: The FEC authorized a similar maneuver during Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla’s 2020 congressional race.

Donalds, a former state representative, had resigned as chairman of his own political committee, “Friends of Byron Donalds,” shortly before running for Congress. A few months later, that state group donated more than $107,000 to an independent federal political committee that backed Donalds’ candidacy.

The campaign legal center filed a complaint accusing Donalds of violating a ban on the use of non-federal funds, or “soft money,” for a federal election. But the FEC took no action on the matter, not persuaded that Donalds controlled the movements of the state group after his resignation.

Friends of Ron DeSantis may soon be trying to transfer a bag of money about 800 times the size of Donald’s. But experts say that when it comes to law, size doesn’t matter.

“At the end of the day, the legal principles aren’t really changed by the amount of money involved,” Bradley Smith, a former Republican FEC commissioner, said of the potential transfer of funds.

“My baseline view is that I don’t think they’re going to have a real problem,” Smith said.

The state committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, appears to be positioning itself for the transfer. The group this week chose State Senator Blaise Ingoglia, a Republican ally of DeSantis, to take over as chairman. The committee’s website, which, as recently as last month had listed DeSantis as its “associated person,” Ingoglia now lists.

The state senator confirmed his appointment in a statement to CNBC that did not specify that he will focus on electing state-level candidates. Instead, Ingoglia’s statement says the group “will put children first” and echoes the rhetoric used by the governor in his high-profile fight to ban certain classroom discussions about gender identity and gender. sexual orientation.

A spokeswoman for Ingoglia could not immediately be reached for further comment.

Friends of Ron DeSantis are allowed to accept unlimited contributions from donors, and it shows. In recent years, the group has received one-time donations of $10 million from hotelier Robert Bigelow and $5 million from hedge fund CEO Ken Griffin, among many others that far exceed the cap. $6,600 that individuals can donate to national election committees.

Bigelow was also revealed to be the best donor to Never Back Down, a super PAC that says it has already raised more than $33 million encouraging DeSantis to run for president.

Spokespersons for Never Back Down declined CNBC’s requests for comment on the transfer of funds reported by the state committee.

Meanwhile, DeSantis appears to be gearing up to launch a presidential campaign.

Backed by a heavily Republican state legislature, DeSantis has spent the previous two months passing tons of new state policies that largely outline the kind of populist, culture-driven agenda he should embrace on the campaign trail. .

GOP state lawmakers also passed measures allowing DeSantis to run for president without resigned as governor and shielding his travel records out of public view.

He also hosted a slew of dinners and other events with potential Republican donors, according to various news outlets.

Roy Bailey, a Texas bundler who recently hooked up with DeSantis, sang the governor’s praises during a call with CNBC. “I told him I hope he comes in and prayerfully thinks about it, and I’m ready to support him if he does,” Bailey said.

However, the process apparently yielded mixed results. Republican megadonor Steve Schwarzman chose not to contribute to DeSantis’ efforts after a recent meeting, Bloomberg reported.

If successful, transferring money from the state committee from DeSantis to a super PAC could also help reverse the governor’s downward trend in some cases. polls of the potential primary race.

Trump took the lead as a frontrunner while bashing DeSantis at every available opportunity, even after he was criminally charged with falsifying business records and found liable for sexual abuse and defamation. Trump, who is also under criminal investigation in two federal cases and one in Georgia, pleaded not guilty to the business charges and appealed the sex abuse verdict.

Some experts, such as those at the Campaign Legal Center, view the use of public funds at the federal level as a loophole. But Smith, the former Republican commissioner of the FEC, noted that calling it a loophole implies it’s not illegal.

“I think the loophole exists because of serious constitutional concerns,” he said. “One person’s loophole is another person’s constitutionally protected speech.”

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