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Ron Desantis spent over $160 million in his failed campaign to undermine Donald Trump. The only thing that resulted from Desantis’ presidential campaign was a second-place finish in a single nominating contest. The only other thing that happened was that some political consultants were made richer. $160 million makes DeSantis’s failed presidential bid among the most expensive in modern Republican primary elections.
Never Back Down PAC
About $130 million out of the total $160 million was spent by Never Back Down, a PAC led by Jeff Roe. Criticism was directed at the way Never Back Down allocated its funds, especially in relation to its door-knocking initiative during the early caucus and primary states. The use of campaign funds to enrich political consultants is an ongoing problem in politics.
Tim Miller, a former operative for Jeb Bush, found the door-knocking project amusing, saying, “What is all this “canvassing” getting them aside from embarrassing stories about “stoned” supporters acting stupid in people’s doorbell cameras? It’s sure not slowing the Trump juggernaut. … If the Never Back Down PAC had spent every dime that has thus far gone to TV ads and canvassers on sculpting a giant golden idol alongside I-80 in central Iowa that depicts DeSantis kicking an immigrant child in the ass, there is no available evidence that their candidate would be worse off than he is today.”
In the fourth quarter of 2023, DeSantis’ campaign spent nearly as much on travel as it did on payroll costs, totaling around $833,000, according to filings. While a significant portion of this amount covered standard travel expenses such as hotels, car rentals, and commercial airlines, over half of the campaign’s travel spending—almost $457,000—was directed to TMFB Management Services. Notably, TMFB Management Services is a business travel company owned by Craig Mateer, a campaign donor whom DeSantis had previously appointed to the State University System’s Board of Governors.
Private jets were utilized, and utilized often. The financial filings do not provide a clear breakdown of how much DeSantis’ campaign spent on private air travel, a luxury that the campaign heavily invested in during the initial stages of his presidential bid. Previously, The New York Times reported that the responsibility of covering the costs of DeSantis’ private flights was taken on by Never Back Down, the super PAC associated with his campaign.
Throughout his presidential bid, DeSantis outsourced most of his advertising and media production to Never Back Down. The super PAC allocated approximately $30 million for these expenses, according to its filings. In contrast, DeSantis’ campaign itself expended only around $2 million on direct media placements. This discrepancy in spending highlights the reliance of Desantis’ campaign on external entities for crucial campaign components.
Never Back Down’s Multi-Million Dollar Dealings with Jeff Roe’s Affiliated Firms
The financial filings reveal that Never Back Down directed at least $36 million to a select few firms associated with Jeff Roe. The group gave over $220,000 to Roe’s primary consultancy, Axiom Strategies, in the latter half of 2023. Additionally, Never Back Down sent $11.2 million to Vanguard Field Strategies, the canvassing arm of Axiom. DeSantis’ campaign also included Axiom among its consultants, with the filings revealing payments exceeding $100,000 to the firm during the fourth quarter of 2023.
Other Candidates Wasted Money Too
DeSantis was not the only Trump rival to blow through a lot of money with little to show for it. As the New York Times noted, backers of Tim Scott spent over $50 million before he dropped out well before Iowa, and Vivek Ramaswamy spent over $30 million to win three delegates. Nikki Haley had her campaign and super PAC expend just under $80 million before the New Hampshire voting. In that state, she significantly outspent Trump.
Trump Attacks Axiom
Former President Donald Trump and individuals within his inner circle have now been telling Republican candidates not to sign contracts with Axiom, Jeff Roe’s political consulting firm. “Team Trump has made clear that hiring Jeff Roe is the fastest way for a candidate to get President Trump to endorse their opponent,” said a Republican strategist.
Donald Trump Jr’s Remarks On Axiom Strategies
During a campaign event in Iowa, Donald Trump Jr. said that Jeff Roe was attempting to extend the Republican primary in order to make as much profit off Desantis as possible. Axiom is the nation’s largest Republican political consulting firm, established in 2005. As per Axiom’s information, the firm boasts nearly 400 employees spread across approximately 20 individual firms operating as its subsidiaries.
A 2010 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for the emergence of super PACs, enabling these political action committees to collect unrestricted funds from donors, including corporations, for the purpose of advocating both in favor of and against candidates. However, federal regulations strictly forbid candidates and their official campaigns from engaging in direct coordination with super PACs.
Impact Of Campaign Waste
Excessive enrichment of political consultants through campaign funds can have detrimental effects on campaigns. Firstly, it diverts critical financial resources away from essential campaign activities, hindering a campaign’s ability to strategize and compete in elections effectively. Secondly, the perception that a significant portion of donations is used for consultants’ personal gain can erode trust among supporters, potentially hampering fundraising efforts.
Are Consultants To Blame?
Consultants laughing all the way to the bank while their candidate loses is common in politics. If campaigns are just throwing money away, can you really blame the consultants for taking it? The system isn’t broken for them, so why fix it?
Before contributing to political campaigns, individuals should keep in mind that a substantial portion ends up enriching political consultants. By analyzing campaign financial reports and understanding how the money is spent, donors can make informed decisions, supporting candidates and causes that align with their values while minimizing the risk of their contributions disproportionately benefiting consultants over the intended campaign goals.
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Sam Whisnant is a college student with a talent for writing and a natural curiosity about the world. He combines his academic pursuits with a passion for sharing knowledge in a way that is both informative and engaging to his readers.