Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his associated super PAC “Never Back Down” spent a combined total of $168 million on his ill-fated presidential bid, new campaign filings reveal. According to documents submitted to the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, the DeSantis campaign dumped cash into ambitious advertising strategies and expensive consulting firms even as donor interest and the governor’s poll number declined.
As first reported by the Tampa Bay Times, January 31st marked the FEC filing deadline for presidential campaigns, giving key insights into the final days of Governor DeSantis’ run for the White House. Despite a bug-riddled campaign launch via X Spaces in May 2023, the Florida governor quickly turned into a fundraising powerhouse, pulling in $20 million in the first six weeks.
But while DeSantis initially ran a competitive race with frontrunner and former President Donald Trump, he soon stagnated in the polls and fell to a distant second place. Major backers began jumping ship, key campaign staffers quit or were replaced, and public perception shifted against the once-popular governor.
At the same time, the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down—a separate but related entity—saw its own shakeups and challenges. After pulling in $145 million in 2023, the PAC entered 2024 with just $14.5 million left in its coffers. The DeSantis campaign had another $9.7 million at the beginning of the year, and the governor ultimately opted to suspend his campaign in mid-January after finishing far behind Trump in the Iowa Caucuses.
The new FEC filings do not account for money raised or spent in 2024, including during the runup to Iowa, but they clearly show that money and momentum were drying up for the DeSantis campaign by the end of last year. The biggest drains on the campaign’s finances included:
In the fourth quarter of 2023, the campaign spent almost as much on travel as it did on payroll costs, about $833,000 in total. Most of the expenses were standard hotel bookings, car rentals, and commercial airfare, but approximately $457,000 went to a business travel agency owned by DeSantis donor Craig Mateer, who was previously appointed the State University System’s Board of Governors.
Never Back Down spent roughly $3.5 million on travel in that same time period, including $250,000 to Mateer’s TMFB Management Services and $913,000 for luxury bus rentals. The PAC also covered all of DeSantis’ private air travel, although the total cost of those flights is unknown.
According to the filings, most advertising was outsourced to Never Back Down, which spent $30 million on media placements. The campaign itself only spent $2 million, highlighting the degree to which the governor relied on the PAC to promote his platform.
In the runup to the Iowa Caucuses, Never Back Down singlehandedly funded field operations for the DeSantis campaign, spending $23 million in the second half of 2023. This accounted for the PAC’s largest expense. In an unusual reversal of roles, the campaign itself reported no money spent on canvassing, leaving all grassroots efforts up to the PAC, over which it had no control.
The other major expense for both the campaign and the PAC was fees from consulting firms, which cost both groups tens of millions of dollars. Most of these firms were controlled or operated by Republican strategist Jeff Roe, who was a top PAC advisor. Never Back Down paid Roe-affiliated firms $36 million, and the campaign directed more than $100,000 to Roe’s Axiom Strategies in Q4.
However, despite the sizeable expenses the late DeSantis campaign faced, similar costs are not unheard of in a presidential campaign. For comparison, the Trump campaign and its associated super PACs spent $210 in 2023, and the Nikki Haley campaign dropped $10 million on anti-DeSantis advertising in Iowa and New Hampshire alone.