Nikki Haley keeping early 2024 fundraising numbers quiet

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley had a busy first week as an official 2024 presidential candidate, announcing in her native state, then hustling to early voting New Hampshire and Iowa and going on a media blitz.

But as fundraising starts to build for the potential GOP field, she’s running into a potential home state conflict: donors waiting for the possible entrance of Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. Both Republicans are popular among the state's voters, and some previous Haley donors have said they’re waiting to see if Scott — stockpiling cash that he could ultimately transfer into a presidential bid — enters the race.

For now, Haley, who also served as United Nations ambassador during the Trump administration, hasn't revealed how much money she's taken in since her Feb. 15 launch. Her campaign told The Associated Press it was “enormously pleased with our initial fundraising" but would wait until a April 15 deadline to report a figure for the full first quarter.

That’s raising some eyebrows. Campaigns typically use their first receipts as bragging points to show their candidates' strength. This year, in what is expected to be a crowded GOP field, donors are looking closely at initial fundraising to assess staying power amid a fierce competition for cash.

Former President Donald Trump, the first announced GOP presidential candidate in the 2024 race, entered the campaign with tens of millions of dollars in the bank but hasn't released numbers since the end of last year. According to federal filings, the Save America Joint Fundraising Committee — the primary fundraising vehicle for his campaign and his leadership PAC — had more than $3.5 million on hand. Make America Great Again Inc., a super PAC that supports Trump, had $54 million in its coffers.

In the 2020 presidential campaign, several in the broad Democratic field released fundraising for their first 24 hours as candidates. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders raised nearly $6 million in his first 24 hours, a sum eclipsed a few months later by former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s $6.1 million. Then-California Sen. Kamala Harris took in $1.5 million on her first day.

Ken Christensen, CEO of Washington-based The Politics Company Inc., a Democratic messaging and fundraising firm, said there are reasons a candidate would want to keep initial fundraising numbers quiet before the Federal Election Commission deadline.

“Maybe they are simply not raising impressive numbers,” Christensen said. “Or they simply want to pull in as much money as possible before the next FEC reporting period, trying to build a big number for the next FEC report.”

Typical of all campaigns, Haley has been pursuing donations with phone calls and supporter gatherings, as well as text and email lists.

Shortly after her announcement, she had the kind of viral moment a Republican can only dream about: a CNN host saying that, as a 51-year-old woman, she was “past her prime” — a comment off which she immediately began fundraising.

Within hours of the remark by Don Lemon during a discussion of Haley's call for mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75, she emailed a fundraising appeal to supporters, decrying him as a “CNN liberal” and including a link to the video clip.

Days later, she followed up with text and email alerts to supporters, advertising drink koozies with the message, “Past my prime? Hold my beer" — free with $3 shipping fees.

Through a political action committee created two years before her presidential campaign, Haley took in more than $17 million, according to federal records, nearly $15 million of which went to operating expenses, like consultant services, staff payroll and rent. About half a million was transferred to other candidates for last year's midterm elections, leaving her PAC with about $2 million at the end of last year.

What about Scott?

Running last fall in what he’s said would be his final Senate campaign, Scott raised $43 million, ending the year with nearly $22 million on hand.

That leftover cash could be transferred to another federal campaign. Additionally, Opportunity Matters Fund, a pro-Scott super PAC, spent more than $20 million to help Republicans in 2022 elections, ending the year with more than $13 million. Tech billionaire has Larry Ellison donated at least $30 million to the organization since 2021, according to federal filings.

“I think Tim is really good at raising money,” said Chad Walldorf, a Charleston businessman and longtime supporter of both Haley and Scott. “He spends his money wisely, in a way that allows him to have a large political war chest.”

Donors in South Carolina and beyond may have a difficult time deciding whether to back Haley or Scott, Walldorf said. He said he'll back Scott if he runs.

“It is a tough choice for a lot of South Carolina Republicans to make between two very well liked South Carolina political figures,” said Walldorf, Haley’s appointee to lead South Carolina’s Board of Economic Advisors. “It’s a very difficult choice to have two people that I consider friends, both of whom I think would be wonderful presidents.”

___

Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press