Financing in forthcoming US presidential race

ByNabeel Zafar

Works in the private sector


August 6, 2023

Presidential Race

Nabeel Zafar talks about the impending tough battle

Presidential Race of Florida governor DeSantis is trying to be a tough challenge to Donald Trump’s ascendancy within the Republican Party. For now he has raised more cash than Trump though it may not be the decisive factor in the presidential campaign. Figures released by his campaign show that for the period from April to June, he pocketed $20 million against Trump’s $17.7 million. Fundraising numbers are like the canary in the coal mine as it is one of your first indications of whether a candidate is connecting with people in the party’s base and whether they are generating enthusiasm and whether their message is resonating. But behind DeSantis’ healthy top-line numbers is a more complicated and potentially concerning, story for the Florida governor – one that suggests his presidential campaign, already trailing Trump by double digits in public opinion polls, may not be on sturdy financial footing, either.


The first thing to note is that Trump’s numbers are not exactly what they appear. Earlier this month, his campaign said it had raised $35 million, more than twice the amount it disclosed earlier and well ahead of DeSantis’ receipts. The reason for the discrepancy is that Trump has been directing most of this money to a fundraising committee that would not report its financial numbers until the end of July. That committee then passes some of the cash on to the campaign and gives the rest to yet another committee. It is a murky process but it allows the campaign to raise funds for a variety of purposes including, some have noted, to help pay for Trump’s every-growing legal fees. A more meaningful measurement of who is ahead in the money stakes could be cash in the bank – and in this category, Trump is comfortably ahead, with $22.52 million compared with $12.24 million for DeSantis.

The amount of cash on hand is particularly important for DeSantis given that his campaign has been spending at a fairly rapid pace. In the six weeks that the DeSantis team has been up and running, it spent $7.87 million- 39% of the amount it raised. That includes more than a million dollars in payroll for 92 staffers. This is a high burn rate for a campaign, which will need to save money for later, more expensive phases in the campaign. It can be a clear warning sign that its fundraising expectations are too high and a financial crunch is on the horizon. Trump’s team spent more than DeSantis’ – $9.31 million – but it is raising more money has more in the bank and is leaner with only 40 employees, so its burn rate is less of a concern at the moment.

There are some signs that the DeSantis camp is aware they could be heading for dangerous ground. It is reported that the DeSantis campaign is laying off some of its staff – as many as a dozen – and focusing its spending on early-voting states in the Republican nomination process, including Iowa. Some of these staffers may move over to the independent committee that is supporting DeSantis – a group that, thanks to a transfer of $80 million raised from DeSantis’ 2022 governor re-election campaign has more than $100 million at its disposal. But that committee cannot co-ordinate directly with the DeSantis team which brings the risk that it could spend money in ways that are not helpful to the campaign.

That’s not the only warning sign for DeSantis. Of his total fundraising haul, a sizeable $3 million is in a fund that can only be used if DeSantis wins the Republican nomination and runs in the general election. And DeSantis is going to have to go looking for new donors if he wants to keep the cash spigots open. Two-thirds of his current donors have already given $3,300 to his primary campaign – the maximum amount allowable by law. There is nothing wrong with having maxed out donors as every dollar counts but small donors historically have been the best yardstick for measuring a connection to grass-roots voters. And in that arena, DeSantis is not at the top of the list right now whereas Trump is and has been for years.

While DeSantis’ other rivals as the non-Trump candidate trail well behind him in fundraising they are also running much more modest campaigns, at least by modern standards. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley raised $5.34 million and spent $2.6 million. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott spent $6.74 million – more than he raised – but he also has $21.1 million in the bank thanks to a transfer of funds from his Senate campaign war chest. Some candidates are running bare-bones operations out of necessity. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie raised $1.66 million but only spent $66,212. Mike Pence, despite being a former vice-president with national name recognition, only raised $1.17 million and spent just $74,343. It is said about American presidential campaigns just run out of money but the latest financial figures are just a snapshot in time as circumstances can quickly change in a fiercely fought election. The Weekender


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