Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) began his second term as governor with two days of inaugural celebrations sponsored and attended by prominent lobbyists and political donors, underscoring a successful re-election bid marked by a fundraising record fund
The Republican governor raised more than $217 million for his re-election bid, the most by any gubernatorial candidate in US history, according to data from OpenSecrets. DeSantis’ statewide PAC, Friends of Ron DeSantis, raised nearly $176.8 million of that total while his campaign contributed $40.5 million.
DeSantis used the largesse of his political operation to defeat his Democratic opponent, former Republican Gov. and Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D–Fla.), who resigned from the U.S. House to focus on his gubernatorial campaign. Crist raised $31.6 million.
DeSantis’ political operation’s $217 million raised in 2022 is a substantial jump from the $60.2 million raised for his primary in the 2016 gubernatorial race.
DeSantis’ inauguration theme on Tuesday was “The Free State of Florida,” echoing his 2022 campaign slogan, the Florida Standard first reported. In his inaugural address, DeSantis repeated verbatim a line from his November acceptance speech: “Florida is where the awakening is going to die.”
Sponsorship packages for DeSantis’ inauguration ranged from $25,000 to $1 million, according to a confidential Florida Republican Party menu first obtained by POLITICO.
Five million-dollar donors received the “inaugural chair” designation, which included access to various inaugural events. This included a photo with DeSantis, VIP seating for DeSantis’ swearing-in, and invitations to attend a candlelight dinner, inaugural ball and Toast to One Million Mamas, an event recognizing more than 1 million women that Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis mobilized in support of her. husband
The event’s inaugural chairs were lobbyists Brian Ballard of Ballard Partners, Bill Rubin of Rubin Turnbull & Associates, Nick Iarossi of Capital City Consulting and Jeff Hartley of Smith, Bryan & Myers, the Florida standard
All four firms were among the top 11 highest-earning lobbying firms in 2021 based on statewide spending in Florida, with Ballard Partners and Capital City Consulting ranking second and third, respectively. Profitable corporate lobbying continued in 2022 with Ballard Partners and Capital City Consulting ranking in the top five firms, first and third, respectively, in third-quarter lobbying earnings, according to Florida Politics. Smith, Bryan & Myers and Rubin Turnbull & Associates ranked in the top 15 this quarter.
Some of the lobbyists also helped fund DeSantis’ political ambitions. Ballard gave $10,000 to DeSantis’ PAC in 2018 and gave his 2022 campaign another $3,000, the legal limit. Hartley gave DeSantis’ 2022 campaign the maximum legal contribution amount of $3,000, and Iarossi has been called “DeSantis’ top fundraiser.”
A look towards the 2024 presidential election
DeSantis is expected to become a candidate in the 2024 presidential election, and his inauguration speech on Tuesday further fueled speculation. The Republican primary would pit him against former President Donald Trump, who announced his campaign on Nov. 15, a matchup that would put some political donors in an interesting position.
Ballard, a longtime Florida lobbyist, built his lobbying firm nationally during the Trump administration. One of DeSantis’ inaugural chairs, Ballard previously served as a top political fundraiser for the 2016 Trump campaign as chairman of the Trump Victory Joint Fundraising Committee, a member of the Trump transition team and vice president of Trump’s inaugural committee. He maintains close ties with the two conservatives of the fire brand.
“Donald Trump on the debate stage is the most unique political animal of the last 100 years. Everyone was decimated by him [in 2016],” Ballard told CNN in October. “I think Ron DeSantis can hold his own against anybody, but Donald Trump is his own character.”
Ken Griffin, CEO of Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel and one of the top donors in the 2022 election cycle, has said he is ready to support DeSantis in 2024. The second-largest individual contributor to the campaign of DeSantis during the last election cycle, Griffin contributed $5 million to DeSantis’ statewide PAC in 2022 and nearly $5.8 million in 2018.
But Griffin, who contributed more than $72.6 million to outside groups supporting federal Republican candidates during the 2022 election cycle, contributed $5.1 million to a super PAC that spent $4.8 million of dollars opposing Trump during the 2016 election. Citadel’s CEO told Bloomberg that Trump was a “three-time loser” the day the former president announced his candidacy.
Meanwhile, Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, who contributed millions to pro-Trump super PACs during the 2016 and 2020 election cycles, signaled that he will not support Trump during the 2024 election. Schwarzman telling Axios that he planned to support a “new generation of leaders.”
Although Schwarzman has not contributed to DeSantis’ political operation, DeSantis he tweeted their thanks for a generous donation Schwarzman made to the Food Bank of Palm Beach County in April 2021, including a photo of the governor and mega-donor.
Richard Uihlein, founder of commercial shipping and supply company ULINE, may be stuck between a rock and a hard place. The top GOP mega-donor in the 2022 election cycle, in which Trump did not run, Uihlein previously contributed a combined $900,000 to Trump Victory during the 2016 and 2018 election cycles and $3.3 million to super PAC America First Action aligned with Trump during the 2020 election cycle. . But Uihlein also gave Friends of Ron DeSantis $700,000 during the 2022 election cycle. His wife gave an additional $500,000 to the statewide PAC.
January 9, 2023: This article has been corrected to reflect that Stephen Schwarzman is the CEO of Blackstone.