Ron DeSantis’s Largest Donor Closes His Wallet, Citing Abortion “Extremism”
Ron DeSantis’s largest individual donor, hotelier and real estate tycoon Robert Bigelow, is, at least for the time being, closing his coffers. He announced that he is no longer donating to the Florida governor’s floundering campaign, citing the candidate’s “extremism” on abortion. Bigelow’s about-face, which he revealed in an interview with Reuters Friday, is the latest sign of big-money skittishness around DeSantis, once the darling of conservative donors.
Bigelow, who once said he’d “go without food” to push a DeSantis presidential bid, donated $20 million in March to Never Back Down, a super PAC supporting the Florida governor. That sum is ten times higher than the $2 million donated by the PAC’s second-biggest donor, venture capitalist Douglas Leone.
But Bigelow’s donation was made a month before DeSantis signed a bill banning abortion after six weeks, a move Bigelow cited as his reason for withholding more money. “He does need to shift to get to moderates. He’ll lose if he doesn’t,” the Las Vegas-based businessman said. “Extremism isn’t going to get you elected.” (Bigelow said he still believes DeSantis is “the best guy for the country” and that the Florida governor was “spot on” in his attacks on “wokeism”.)
Bigelow said he’d communicated his concerns to the campaign, and that he’d specifically told DeSantis campaign manager Generra Peck that the candidate needed to moderate his stance. He added that Peck, whom Bigelow described as a “very good campaign manager,” reacted with “a long period of silence where I thought maybe she had passed out.”
Bigelow’s donation was included in Never Back Down’s first official filing, made public last week. The documents showed that the super PAC had nearly $100 million on hand at the end of June, putting DeSantis’s war chest far above the rest of the Republican primary field. That astronomical number contrasts with the official DeSantis campaign’s lackluster financial situation, which has forced it to shed staffers to remain financially solvent going into the fall. Some of those staffers are expected to move to Never Back Down.
As its coffers grew, the PAC started taking over tasks that are traditionally handled by an official campaign, stretching federal rules that bar super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, from coordinating with a candidate. Never Back Down has staged events featuring DeSantis as a “special guest,” run a bus tour through Iowa, and funded a pro-DeSantis door-knocking effort. But The New York Times reported last week that “since the close of the filing period” that showed such high numbers for the PAC, “some top Republican donors have begun backing away” from the Florida governor, who is dealing with disappointing polling numbers and accusations of a poorly run campaign. In FiveThirtyEight’s average of primary polls, DeSantis trails the current Republican frontrunner, thrice-indicted former president Donald Trump, by nearly 40 points.
Bigelow said he wouldn’t donate any more to DeSantis’s efforts “until I see that he’s able to generate more on his own.” “I’m already too big a percentage,” he said, adding that “a lot of [DeSantis] donors are still on the fence.”
In a statement to Reuters, a DeSantis spokesperson said the campaign was “grateful” to donors for “the capacity to compete for the long haul,” but did not explicitly address Bigelow’s comments.