(Bloomberg) -- The super PAC supporting Ron DeSantis’s presidential bid has burned through cash but has little to show for it as polls unanimously show him trailing Donald Trump by wide margins.
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Never Back Down, DeSantis’s primary super PAC, begged donors to contribute $50 million dollars last week, ahead of the first presidential debate in Milwaukee, saying it needed that sum to further his strategy to go all-in on the Iowa caucuses coming in just over four months, according to attendees at the meeting.
The meeting included roughly 60 donors, according to the attendees who requested anonymity to speak about the discussions. The PAC is spending about $5 million a month in Iowa alone, they said.
The revelation of a cash crunch for the super PAC is the latest embarrassment for DeSantis’s presidential bid, one that kicked off with lofty expectations following his resounding reelection as Florida governor last November. The campaign, which officially launched in May, has been best by tumult, including missteps by the candidate, donor worries about spending, firings and a leadership shake-up as DeSantis slid further behind Trump.
The super PAC did not immediately return a request for comment on its funding. CNN and The New York Times reported earlier on the $50 million ask.
The money woes are noteworthy because Never Back Down has been the best-funded super PAC allied with a GOP candidate and because of the outsized role it plays in the governor’s operation, essentially performing all the functions of a traditional campaign — from opposition research on rivals and media requests to deciding where he travels.
Earlier: DeSantis’s Campaign Isn’t Fully In Charge of DeSantis’s Campaign
A large payroll and the announcement last month of a major $25 million advertising buy suggests the group is spending more quickly than it can court new donors. The super PAC’s biggest donor, hotel tycoon Robert Bigelow, said last month he wouldn’t contribute more until DeSantis demonstrated he could attract other major donors.
Never Back Down spent $33.8 million in the first half of the year, leaving it with $98.6 million going into July, according to the group’s mid-year filing with the Federal Election Commission.
Filings detailed pricey expenditures, including a $62,136 payment in June to a private jet company based in Arlington, Virginia, and an $88,795 restaurant tab in Reno, Nevada, in May.
How much money the super PAC has spent since the end of June won’t be reported to the FEC until next January. From July though August 28, it has spent $5.1 million on “independent expenditures,” or communications telling voters to support or oppose a candidate, which have to be reported to the FEC within 48 hours of making a payment. That includes $2.1 million for media buys, $1.3 million for digital media and texting services and $979,000 for printing and postage.
Much of its spending, though, doesn’t have to be disclosed, such as expenses for polling, the bus that transported DeSantis around Iowa, or the detailed debate memos prepared by a vendor and leaked.
On Thursday, Never Back Down confirmed it was shuttering door-knocking operations in Nevada and California in a bid to preserve resources for early states Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
“We see real opportunities,” Never Back Down communications director Erin Perrine said. “The first three are going to set the conditions for the March states.”
DeSantis trails Trump by over 40 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, and has staked his struggling campaign on winning Iowa, where he trails Trump by only 26 percentage points.
At the donor luncheon, Never Back Down officials said Trump had likely received over $100 million in free, so-called “earned media,” TV coverage for each of his four criminal indictments, helping him lift his polling numbers, according to attendees.
The officials said they believe some GOP voters will tire of Trump’s legal challenges, though polls show the indictments have boosted his standing and grip on the party.
Officials said they need the cash infusion to make their push before the second Republican debate, scheduled for late September in California, according to the attendees.
DeSantis was one of eight high-polling Republican candidates to take the stage at the first primary debate last week. Trump skipped the forum, part of a strategy to deny his rivals media attention. A Washington Post, FiveThirtyEight and Ipsos poll found 29% of Republican donors said DeSantis won the debate, followed by 26% for entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
“They are going to really take the momentum from the debate and put the hammer down,” said Roy Bailey, a key backer who has hosted fundraisers for DeSantis.
--With assistance from Stephanie Lai and Hadriana Lowenkron.
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