Are Gavin Newsom backers raising money for a possible Democratic presidential bid?

Gov. Gavin Newsom and his supporters have about $12 million to spend to help fellow Democrats and boost his national stature — and part of the money could be used to help fund an eventual White House bid, new campaign finance reports show.

About $6 million could be used to fund ads to publicize his views, and could someday promote his White House candidacy. The governor has emphatically denied he’s running for the office this year.

Another $6 million is available for Newsom to publicize his positions on a range of issues and help state Democratic parties, which he’s been doing across the country since he was re-elected in 2022..

Newsom has been a strong supporter of President Joe Biden. Ads from one of Newsom’s political committees ran last month urging donors to contribute to the Biden campaign, and the governor has raised an estimated $6.7 million to help the president’s re-election. Biden has been in California this week raising more campaign cash, while Newsom was in Washington for a governor’s conference and White House meetings..

“This is all about helping out Democrats,” said Nathan Click, a Newsom consultant, of all of the Newsom campaign efforts. Click said there is no intention to use the funds for a presidential run.

A run for president?

Concerns about Biden’s popularity—and his age and stamina — have stoked increasingly loud chatter in the political world about what could happen if the president chose not to run again.

In that case, Newsom would have the political infrastructure he would need.

He has set up a fundraising and spending system typical of politicians thinking of a presidential bid. He would likely need a lot more than the $6 million now available from Super Political Action Committee supporting him, but prominent national figures and their backers have shown in the past year they can quickly raise bigger sums.

Super PACs are campaign finance vehicles that allow unlimited contributions. They can run ads promoting positions and voter turnout, and have become important ways of helping specific candidates.

The Stand for America Fund, which supports former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, raised $50.1 million in the last half of 2023 as she became the most prominent challenger to GOP frontrunner Donald Trump for the party’s presidential nomination. The group raised a total of $68.9 million last year and spent $65.3 million.

Never Back Down, which supports Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, raised $145 million last year and spent $130 million. DeSantis dropped out of the race in January after finishing a distant second to Trump in the Iowa caucus, the first contest of this year’s election cycle.

Newsom’s political arms

Newsom and his supporters are using three fundraising committees, according to data from OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group, and the Federal Election Commission:.

The Campaign for Democracy Group is not subject to contribution limits, though as long as Newsom is not a candidate for federal office, it can coordinate with him.

The PAC has taken in $9.7 million as of December 31. About $8.4 million came from funds left over from Newsom’s 2022 gubernatorial campaign. It has $6 million on hand.

The PAC could eventually run ads or take other steps to promote a Newsom White House campaign, though if Newsom is a declared candidate he cannot have contact with the group. The PAC so far has spent largely on administrative expenses.

“With this money parked in a Super PAC linked to Gov. Newsom, it provides flexibility in how that money could be spent,” said Brendan Glavin, deputy research director at OpenSecrets. “Legally the super PAC can not coordinate with any candidate, but it could spend money independently on any future Newsom campaign, or any election it chooses to.”

Click emphasized none of the Newsom-affiliated PACs are presidential exploratory committees, but vehicles to help other Democrats.

The Campaign for Democracy Committee is called a joint fundraising committee. It operates like a bank, mostly collecting and distributing funds to the other groups.It currently has about $1.2 million available to be sent to those groups.

The Campaign for Democracy Political Action Committee plays by different rules. It is directly affiliated with Newsom, and has run ads across the nation in recent months featuring the governor and promoting his political positions. Contributors can give no more than $5,000 annually, and direct donations from corporations and labor unions are not allowed.

As of the end of last year, it had raised $9 million and spent $3 million. About two-thirds of the money raised was a transfer from money left over from Newsom’s 2022 gubernatorial campaign.

The rest came from more than 700 individual donors of more than $200 each. They listed addresses in at least 41 different states and Washington, D.C., though most are from California.

They could give up to $5,000. Money from this PAC could not be used for a presidential campaign.

Ads around the country

Newsom’s funds are being used to boost his national stature, through spending on ads and helping other campaigns. It has contributed $43,935 to different Democratic campaigns and parties.

Most of the ads from Newsom supporters ran in 2023 were on social media and centered on Newsom and his views. In January, the ads involved Newsom urging viewers to donate to Biden’s campaign.

An ad last month, viewed an estimated 1 million times, ran in seven states, including the political swing states of Pennsylvania and Illinois. It also ran in Florida, Texas, New York, Washington and California.

“Gavin Newsom here,” the ad begins as the governor appears.

“It’s a critical moment as Donald Trump inches closer to securing the Republican nomination. We cannot let our country take a step backward by allowing these extremist Republicans to ban books and undermine our reproductive rights,” it continues.

Last year’s ads centered on polarizing issues such as abortion and gun rights.

“If you support mandating background checks, banning civilian purchases of assault weapons, and raising the federal minimum age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21, then please: sign our petition today to join the movement to pass the Right to Safety Amendment to the Constitution today. It’s a small act that can make a big difference,” Newsom said in an ad, which ran for two weeks in the fall. That ad ran in all 50 states.