A super PAC backing Florida Gov. draft committee that is expected to be transferred directly to his campaign in the coming days, CBS News has learned, according to a person familiar with the move.has raised $500,000 into a separate
The group, “Never Back Down” has been encouraging donors to contribute online to the “Draft DeSantis 2024 Fund,” a to house money from DeSantis donors until his campaign launch. Super PACs can raise unlimited funds, but they are generally considered expenditure-only, meaning they cannot contribute directly to a candidate.
The $500,000 raised by Never Back Down from March through DeSantis’ launch on Wednesday, comes from 10,726 individual donors, with an average donation of $47 to the fund. Only donations for the primary election were solicited, and they all were subjected to the $3,300 max contribution limit to super PACs allowed by federal law.
“We want to help show Ron that if he gets in this race, his first day fundraising will be huge. So go to our website and donate today, so we can make day one of Ron DeSantis for President a huge fundraising bonanza,” super PAC founder Ken Cuccinelli said in a March Facebook ad asking for online contributions.
The first 24 hours are often considered an early bellwether of the strength of a campaign, and there is often a competitive race to raise the most funds. Money raised on the first day often goes toward crucial campaign funds, can help in making early hires and fund travel.
The DeSantis campaign said Thursday night that it raised $8.2 million within the first 24 hours of launching. This sum does not include any transfer by the Never Back Down PAC, according to the New York Times.
Campaign finance experts called the move “unprecedented” and had mixed reactions on if it violated FEC regulations.The transfer of “hard” campaign dollars — money raised under federal fundraising limits — from a super PAC to a campaign has not ever been tried, largely because different laws govern the two types of fundraising entities.
But in this case, Paul Seamus Ryan, a campaign finance expert, told CBS News that Never Back Down is “seemingly circumventing” a prohibition on super PACs directly transferring donations to the campaign, by using the separate draft committee PAC.
“Any way you slice it, this is an unprecedented fundraising tactic,” he said.
Links shared by the DeSantis super PAC would redirect contributors to the draft committee’s WinRed page to donate, under the condition the money would be going to an official DeSantis campaign after he launches. WinRed is the digital fundraising arm of the Republican party.
The FEC gave guidance on “draft funds” in a 2014 decision that established that “nonconnected” political action committees may raise money (subject to candidate limits) designated for candidates’ campaigns ahead of their launch. It did not specify whether this applied to super PACs or not, as they have to register as separate, independent expenditure-only PAC.
The draft committee the super PAC encouraged donations to go to is registered as a “nonconnected” PAC.
Congressional party committees, which are also subject to federal donation maximums, have also set up “nominee funds” to raise and then transfer money to their party’s eventual nominee after the primary.
Never Back Down is also continuing to solicit online donations that will go directly to the DeSantis campaign. After his official launch on Wednesday, the donation page on the PAC’s website redirects visitors to a fundraising page that says contributions would “benefit Ron DeSantis for President.”
“We will continue to turn that energy into action and do things no other Super PAC has done before. Every dollar Never Back Down asks for online will go directly to the Ron DeSantis for President campaign,” said Kristin Davison, the PAC’s chief operating officer.
Saurav Ghosh, director of federal campaign finance reform at the Campaign Legal Center, said while the right conditions of contribution limits have been applied by the DeSantis PAC in soliciting the donations, their actions to raise the money blurs the line that separates super PAC and campaign.
“Super PACs are supposed to be independent, and this sure doesn’t look like independence,,” he said. “[The draft committee entity] doesn’t change the fact that the super PAC appears to have underwritten the cost of fundraising for that entity, which is a tantamount to paying costs for the DeSantis campaign. Again, this is uncharted water but it seems like an illegal effort to circumvent the laws barring super PAC-campaign coordination.”
The FEC declined to comment on the expected transfer. Even if any challenges to it were to be lodged, it’d likely hit a wall with a deadlocked FEC board, composed of three Democratic members and three Republican members.
The Never Back Down group is testing the boundaries of super PAC support in more than one way. Traditionally, because donations to super PACs are not subject to federal limits, a super PAC will spend money on messaging and TV ads, even though advertisement rates are much cheaper for a campaign than for a super PAC.
Never Back Down raised $30 million in its first month and will invest heavily in the ground game, launching a $100 million voter-outreach program that aims to have over 2,600 field organizers by Labor Day. The super PAC says it already has canvassers on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two earliest-voting GOP primary states.
The super PAC is expected to have a budget of $200 million, with $86 million of that expected to come from the “Friends of Ron DeSantis” state political committee. Cucinelli told CBS News on Thursday that they haven’t received those funds yet, but that he “certainly hope[s]” it is sent over.
CBS News has reached out to the DeSantis campaign for any response on the expected transfer.