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DeSantis, GOP Pile Up Political Cash

Gov. Ron DeSantis is off to a strong financial start for an expected reelection run.
News Service of Florida file photo
Gov. Ron DeSantis (at podium) is off to a strong financial start for an expected reelection run.

With a $5.14 million haul in March, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political committee raised more than $9 million in the first three months of 2021 as he prepares to run for reelection.DeSantis will not appear on the ballot until next year, but newly filed finance reports give a glimpse of the financial advantages he and other Florida Republicans will have as they seek to hold on to governor’s office and almost all other levers of political power in the state.

The reports, filed before a Monday deadline, also detail the large sums of money that businesses, groups and wealthy individuals continue pouring into the state political system to try to influence policymakers and prepare for the 2022 elections.

DeSantis has not opened a formal campaign account to run again next year, but his political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, raised $5.14 million in March, while spending only $43,209, according to a report posted on the state Division of Elections website.

Since the beginning of this year, the DeSantis committee had raised nearly $9.07 million as of March 31, while spending less than $70,000,

By contrast, Florida Consumers First, a political committee tied to state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, raised about $285,000 during the first three months of the year, including nearly $149,000 in March. Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, is widely expected to run against DeSantis in 2022.

While contributions to campaign accounts of statewide candidates are limited to $3,000, contributions to political committees are not capped. As a result, contributions to DeSantis’ committee and many other committees sometimes reach six figures.

As an example, political committees linked to Associated Industries of Florida gave $595,000 to Friends of Ron DeSantis in March through a series of contributions, according to the report. AIF has long been one of the state’s most-influential business lobbying groups.

Other examples of contributions to the DeSantis committee in March are $250,000 from the St. Augustine-based health care firm Island Doctors; $250,000 from former Home Depot CEO Bernard Marcus; $100,000 from the automotive firm JM Family Enterprises; $100,000 from the Lake City-based Junction City Mining Co.; $100,000 from Jacksonville-based First Coast Energy, LLP; and $100,000 from Ring Power Corp.

With Republicans in almost complete control of state government for two decades, the GOP typically has a large financial advantage over Democrats. That continued early this year, with the Republican Party of Florida raising $3.65 million during the first three months of 2021, while the Florida Democratic Party raised $1.39 million, according to the reports.

Similarly, the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee - which plays a key role in electing GOP candidates to the state Senate - raised about $1.48 million during the first quarter. Its Democratc counterpart, the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, raised $261,500.

Among individual contributions in March, the largest single amount was a $3 million contribution from the industry group Florida Realtors to a political committee known as Floridians for Housing. The next-largest single contribution was a $766,092 check from Airbnb, Inc., to a political committee dubbed The People Versus the Powerful, according to a state Division of Elections database.