DeSanti’s fundraising group is raising close to $10 million

By Jason Lange and Alexandra Ulmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A fundraising group linked to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis raised close to $10 million in February, a big haul as Republican eyes turn to next year’s presidential election, according to a financial disclosure released on Friday.

The disclosure by the Friends of DeSantis group, which was formed to support DeSantis’ 2018 and 2022 Florida gubernatorial campaigns, indicates it had about $80 million in the bank at the end of last month.

Although DeSantis easily won re-election months earlier in November, Friends of DeSantis last month received some of its largest contributions in years, including $2.5 million from billionaire options trader Jeff Yass, the disclosure showed.

Public opinion polls show DeSantis is the strongest threat to former President Donald Trump for their party’s nomination in next year’s presidential contest. DeSantis made his first trip to the early voting state of Iowa on Friday, testing the waters for a presidential run, just days before Trump is scheduled to campaign there.

The Friends of DeSantis bank account puts DeSantis on similar financial footing to Trump, who unlike DeSantis has formally launched a 2024 presidential campaign.

Trump and an allied Super PAC he has funded reported having close to $80 million in multiple fundraising accounts at the end of 2022.

Those accounts include Trump’s Save America group, which registered with election regulators to support allied campaigns instead of his own, but has transferred at least $60 million to a pro-Trump Super PAC expected to support his campaign.

Super PACs are big-money groups that can legally raise and spend unlimited sums to help a candidate, as long as the spending is not controlled by the candidate’s campaign. They typically receive significant funding from the wealthiest Americans.

The Friends of DeSantis group, which is registered in Florida to support DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaigns, also would not be able to legally fund a presidential campaign led by DeSantis.

But Friends of DeSantis is also expected to funnel money to a Super PAC supporting the Florida politician’s presidential ambitions.

On Thursday, a former senior Trump administration official announced that he had formed a Super PAC aimed at getting DeSantis into the White House race.

Government watchdogs have previously attempted legal challenges to such transfers, and one is currently seeking to block Trump’s funding of the Make America Great Again Inc Super PAC.

But because leadership at the Federal Election Commission is typically deadlocked on sensitive partisan issues, the regulator is unlikely to challenge transfers to Super PACs, said Paul S. Ryan, an election law expert at the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation.

“It undermines our democracy,” Ryan said.

DeSantis’ political team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Friends of DeSantis said in its disclosure that it has raised $222 million since its founding, including $9.9 million in February, and has spent $140 million.

If DeSantis joins the presidential race, he will also face former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as well as other potential candidates such as former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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