New reports detail how DeSantis outsourced his campaign to a super PAC

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New fundraising reports detail just how extensively Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis outsourced his unsuccessful presidential campaign to an aligned super PAC, leaning on the outside group to shoulder much of the cost of organizing and advertising.

The super PAC, Never Back Down, spent a whopping $131 million in 2023, more than four times the $28.2 million the DeSantis campaign spent last year, according to a new fundraising report filed Wednesday night with the Federal Election Commission.

While super PACs typically spend millions on advertisements because they can raise an unlimited amount of money, Never Back Down also led the pro-DeSantis organizing effort on the ground, focusing much of its efforts on Iowa.

The group shelled out $23 million on canvassing and field operation. DeSantis’ own campaign did not list any standalone expenditures for canvassing or field operations in 2023.

In December, Never Back Down had 88 staffers on its payroll, while DeSantis’ campaign had 51 people on staff that month. Never Back Down staffers were often spotted at events wearing embroidered zip-up jackets, and the group reported spending more than $9,000 on jackets in late September and early October.

DeSantis’ reliance on the super PAC backfired as internal drama plagued Never Back Down. As top staffers clashed and left the group, DeSantis’ allies spun off other outside groups to support the governor.

Never Back Down’s latest fundraising report, which spanned the final six months of 2023, showed the group transferred $9.6 million to one of those other groups, Fight Right, in late November and December.

Never Back Down also sent more than $2.7 million to Win It Back PAC, a group running ads against former President Donald Trump, in July and August. Win It Back PAC ultimately stopped its anti-Trump advertising effort when it found the ads were having little impact on the former president's standing.

DeSantis’ presidential campaign, meanwhile, spent more of its funds on travel and staff than on ads in 2023, according to a new fundraising report detailing the financial stress on his campaign in its final days.

The campaign last year spent $3.3 million on “media placement,” which refers to money spent to place ads on the airwaves, filings show. But it also spent $2.8 million on travel and another $2.8 million on payroll last year, according to figures in his latest fundraising report combined with his campaign’s previously reported spending.

The travel included significant spending on private air travel, the campaign finance records show, while the payroll costs supported a staff headcount that grew quickly and then was cut dramatically within months of the campaign’s launch.

DeSantis also struggled to grow his donor base, ending the year with a campaign account full of money that he could not use for the primaries.

The new fundraising report, filed Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission, showed DeSantis’ campaign had $9.7 million in its account as of the end of December, less than one month before he dropped out of the race following a second-place showing in the Iowa caucuses.

But much of that money appeared to be usable only in a general election. In 2023, DeSantis’ campaign reported raising $9.1 million in general election funds, which he could not spend on the primaries, according to the totals in the year-end filing.

DeSantis’ campaign did ramp up its spending compared to the previous quarter, spending $9.3 million from October through December, including $2 million on ad placement, $866,000 on staff and $659,000 on travel, according to a filed report.

The report showed 55 staffers on the campaign’s payroll, with little change in staffing levels after the campaign made deep staffing cuts in July.

Most of the travel spending went to three business travel companies: TMFB Management Services and Workman Transportation, which are based in Florida, and Corporate Traveler, which is based in New Jersey. Craig Mateer, who owns TMFB Management, has been a major contributor to DeSantis’ Florida campaigns, and he also donated to DeSantis’ presidential campaign.

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