POLITICS & ELECTIONS

Campaign finance reports ring alarm bells for DeSantis, Pence falls behind

Jul 16, 2023, 10:07 AM

Ron DeSantis...

Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at U.S. Rep. Zach Nunn’s “Operation Top Nunn: Salute to Our Troops" fundraiser on July 15, 2023 in Ankeny, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(CNN) — The first full financial look at the 2024 presidential race came into focus over the weekend as candidates filed campaign finance reports with federal regulators. They highlight potential trouble spots for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and expose a wide chasm between the early fundraising leaders in the Republican primary and the rest of the GOP field.

Here are takeaways from the second-quarter fundraising reports for the three months ending June 30.

DeSantis’ burn rate

The Florida governor raised $20 million – a strong total – but his campaign is burning through cash at a rapid rate, spending nearly $8 million since he entered the contest in late May, according to its filing Saturday with the Federal Election Commission.

Travel and payroll expenses each topped $1 million, and more than $800,000 went to digital fundraising consulting, according to the campaign’s report. As of the end of June, DeSantis employed 90 people, compared to nearly 40 people employed by the campaign of former President Donald Trump, the current GOP primary front-runner.

On Saturday, a DeSantis campaign aide confirmed that the team had recently trimmed some staff.

“Defeating Joe Biden and the $72 million behind him will require a nimble and candidate-driven campaign, and we are building a movement to go the distance,” campaign spokesperson Andrew Romeo said in a statement.

The latest filing underscores another warning sign for DeSantis: A small share – less than 15% – of his contributions from individuals came in amounts of $200 or less. Robust small-dollar donations can offer a sign of grassroots momentum behind a campaign, and supporters who contribute small amounts can be tapped repeatedly for donations before hitting the maximum $3,300 an individual can legally donate in primary elections.

DeSantis entered the second half of the year with $12.2 million remaining in the bank, but only about $9 million of that is available for spending in the GOP primary. DeSantis collected some $3 million in general election money from maxed-out donors that can only be spent if he secures his party’s nomination.

Pence struggles

This weekend’s reports also underscore a stark divide between those who raised substantial sums – such as Trump and DeSantis – and the other well-known political figures competing for the GOP nod.

Former Vice President Mike Pence languished at the bottom half of the pack, bringing in less than $1.2 million, the filings show. He entered the 2024 race in the first week of June, with a little more than three weeks remaining in the fundraising quarter but had spent months preparing a bid. His paltry numbers raise questions about whether he can gain traction among the party faithful.

Nearly 30% of contributions from individuals to Pence came from people who donated $200 or less. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie outraised the former vice president – bringing in more than $1.65 million during the first 25 days of his candidacy – and took in more than a third of his individual contributions in these smaller amounts.

Notably, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who is largely self-financing his campaign, took in more money from contributors – nearly $1.6 million – than Pence did. (Burgum, a former software executive, is working hard to lure donors, offering $20 gift cards for donations of at least $1 as tries to meet the contributor threshold to qualify for the first GOP debate next month.)

Big fundraising operations

Trump, who leads the GOP field in polling, raised $17.7 million during the quarter – most of which was transferred from a joint fundraising committee that also sends donations to a leadership PAC, Save America.

Save America has paid the former president’s legal expenses in the past; Trump now has been indicted twice this year – first by a Manhattan grand jury in connection with an alleged hush-money scheme and then by a federal grand jury, related to allegations that he mishandled classified documents after leaving the White House. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Trump’s campaign previously announced raising a total of $35 million in the second quarter through his joint fundraising operation. But the full picture on how that money was divided and spent won’t become apparent until later this month when additional reports are filed.

Trump reported $22.5 million in cash on hand as of June 30, topping the GOP field. In second place, with $21.1 million, was South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott – who transferred big sums from his Senate campaign account to his presidential operation.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley entered July with more than $6.8 million in the bank, putting her in the middle of the GOP pack.

Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, meanwhile, continues to plow his personal fortune into the contest, loaning his campaign another $5 million in the second quarter, the reports show. He started July with more than $9 million in cash reserves – money he can easily replenish if he continues to spend heavily to introduce himself to the GOP electorate.

President Joe Biden has announced raising $72 million with the Democratic National Committee, which reports its fundraising later in the week. But that total haul is nearly as much money as what all the major GOP contenders combined reported collecting in their main campaign accounts during the second quarter.

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Campaign finance reports ring alarm bells for DeSantis, Pence falls behind