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Takeaways from presidential super PACs’ mid-year financial disclosures

<i>Sophie Park/Reuters</i><br/>Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at a town hall event at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Manchester on June 6.
Sophie Park/Reuters
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at a town hall event at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Manchester on June 6.

By Melissa Holzberg DePalo and David Wright, CNN

(CNN) — Super PACs backing presidential candidates released their semi-annual financial disclosures on Monday, with the group supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ bid for president leading the pack with a $130 million haul.

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump’s political operation is burning through money as his legal troubles mount.

The new Federal Election Commission filings reveal which PACs – and billionaire or millionaire donors – are boosting the hopefuls’ bids for the White House. In many cases, just a few donors make up the bulk of the super PACs’ troves.

Super PACs cannot directly coordinate with presidential campaigns, so campaigns cannot touch the money these groups raise. But the super PACs can spend in support of candidates without their coordination.

Here are the takeaways from key groups supporting 2024’s presidential candidates.

Just four contributions account for bulk of pro-DeSantis super PAC’s fundraising

Never Back Down Inc., the super PAC backing DeSantis’ presidential campaign, brought in a whopping $130 million in the first six months of 2023, according to a new FEC filing. However, most of that fundraising comes from a different PAC and a single donor.

Empower Parents PAC, which used to be DeSantis’ state political committee, contributed $82.5 million, and Robert Bigelow, the wealthy hotel magnate and space entrepreneur, donated more than $20 million. Those two contributions alone make up more than 78% of Never Back Down’s total receipts.

Bigelow has long supported DeSantis and previously contributed $10 million to the Florida governor’s state political committee.

A second group, Faithful & Strong Policies Inc., donated $5.5 million to Never Back Down, making it the third largest contributor the pro-DeSantis PAC. That organization is also based in Florida.

And Douglas Leone, a venture capitalist at Sequoia Capital, gave Never Back Down $2 million. In 2019, Leone contributed $50,000 to America First Action Inc., a PAC that supported Trump’s reelection effort.

Those four contributions – Empower Parents PAC, Bigelow, Faithful & Strong Policies Inc. and Leone – account for 84% of Never Back Down’s total fundraising.

Several other millionaire and billionaire donors, including Elizabeth Uihlein and Richard Uihlein, Stefan Brodie, David Millstone and Saul Fox, all contributed at least $1 million each.

The group spent nearly $33.8 million in the first half of the year, and as of June 30 had $96.8 million on hand.

While DeSantis’ super PAC commands a massive war chest, campaign finance rules prevent direct coordination between super PACs and campaigns, meaning DeSantis’ campaign can’t touch any of that money. So while Never Back Down will likely be able to continue to raise massive funds, it won’t be able to help with the staff layoffs and belt-tightening the DeSantis campaign has done in recent weeks.

Scaramucci among early donors to Christie super PAC

Anthony Scaramucci and a GOP megadonor who paid for luxury trips for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas are among the donors to the super PAC supporting former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s 2024 presidential bid.

The Tell It Like It Is PAC reported receiving nearly $5.9 million in the first half of 2023, according to a report it filed Monday with Federal Election Commission. Monday marks the deadline for political committees to file financial reports covering the first half of the year.

The Christie-aligned PAC only reported receiving contributions between May 30 and June 30 in this filing. Christie formally announced his presidential campaign on June 6.

Harlan Crow, a Republican real estate magnate, contributed $100,000 to Christie’s PAC. Crow has made headlines recently for providing luxury travel for and engaging in private real-estate deals with Thomas.

Another noteworthy donor is Scaramucci, who served briefly as Trump’s White House communications director. He also donated $100,000 to the pro-Christie PAC, the new filing shows.

Super PACs can accept donations of any size from a wide array of sources, including corporations, but are barred from coordinating their spending decisions with the candidates they back.

The single largest donation was $1 million from a limited liability company called SHBT LLC that was established last year in Texas. A spokesman for Christie’s super PAC did not immediately respond to a request for more information about the donor.

Two of the PAC’s largest donors are Richard Saker, the CEO of ShopRite supermarkets in New Jersey, and Walter Buckley Jr., a political megadonor. The two donors each gave $500,000.

Billionaire Jeff Yass, the cofounder of one of Wall Street’s largest trading firms and TikTok investor, gave the pro-Christie PAC $250,000. Yass also donated $10 million in June to the political committee associated with the anti-tax Club for Growth. An arm of the Club has blistered former President Donald Trump with attack ads.

Another notable donor is Murray Kushner, the uncle of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. He has donated to Christie’s campaigns before and he’s contributed to several Democrats. In this round, Murray Kushner gave the pro-Christie PAC $10,000.

The presidential hopeful has a long history with the Kushner family. In the early 2000s, Christie prosecuted Charles Kushner – Jared Kushner’s father and Murray Kushner’s brother. Charles and Murray Kushner have feuded over business and are reportedly estranged.

Charles Kushner went on to spend more than a year in prison. Trump pardoned Charles Kushner in December 2020.

The super PAC spent less than half a million dollars – nearly $430,000 – in its month of reported expenses and ended the first half of the year with nearly $5.5 million in available cash.

More financial firepower for Scott

A super PAC supporting Tim Scott’s bid brought in nearly $20 million in June, new FEC filings show, adding more financial firepower to the South Carolina senator’s well-funded political network.

The group, TIM PAC, has emerged as a major factor early in the campaign, and recently announced it would spend nearly $50 million on advertising boosting Scott’s bid through January.

The FEC filings show the group had spent about $4.3 million through the end of June, and entered July with over $15 million in cash on hand.

Notably, a significant portion of the funds received by TIM PAC, about $10 million, were transferred from other allied groups that had backed Scott’s previous campaigns for Senate. Larry Ellison, the Silicon Valley billionaire and co-founder of Oracle, was a major donor to those groups, contributing $35 million between 2021 and 2022, though records show he has not contributed directly to the pro-Scott super PAC in 2023.

The pro-Scott super PAC also received major contributions from other prominent donors. Benjamin Navarro, the billionaire founder of Sherman Financial Group, which owns Credit One Bank, contributed $5 million; James Haslam, the owner of the Cleveland Browns NFL Franchise, also gave $25,000; and his brother Bill Haslam, the former Tennessee governor, gave another $25,000.

Scott entered the White House race in an enviable position, with millions stockpiled in his Senate campaign account that was available to use for his presidential bid. The infusion of cash to his allied super PAC adds even more heft to his messaging effort, and between his presidential campaign and allied super PAC, Scott has been – and will likely remain – among the top advertisers in the critical early primary states.

Pro-Haley group receives seven-figure checks

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley also saw millions flow into an allied super PAC in the first half of the year, with the group, Stand For America Fund, reporting that it had raised $18.7 million.

The pro-Haley group received contributions from several big-money donors, including Jan Koum, co-founder of the messaging app WhatsApp, who gave $5 million. Koum contributed $2.5 million on February 16, two days after Haley launched her presidential campaign, and another $2.5 million on June 22.

SFA Fund also received seven-figure contributions from other prominent business leaders and investors. Venture capitalist Tim Draper gave $1.25 million; Laurel Asness, the wife of hedge fund manager Clifford Asness, gave $1 million; Vivek Garipalli, a billionaire health care entrepreneur, also gave $1 million; Steven Stull, founder of the investment firm Advantage Capital, gave $1 million as well; and Ronald Simon, founder of RSI Home Products, was another million-dollar donor.

The pro-Haley group entered July with over $17 million in cash on hand after spending little in the first half of the year, just about $1.6 million. In recent weeks, however, SFA Fund has ramped up its spending activity, and according to data from AdImpact, the group has booked about $4.6 million in airtime over the month of August.

Rich Arkansans donate to Hutchinson-aligned PAC

Wealthy Arkansans – including several Walmart heirs and the head of Tysons Foods – stepped up to fund the super PAC supporting former Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s longshot bid for the Republican presidential nomination, according to a new FEC filing.

America Strong and Free Action Inc. brought in a little less than $2.3 million in the first half of 2023, and spent a little more than $1.3 million in the same time frame, according to the filing. The super PAC ended the first half of the year with less than $950,000 on hand.

The single largest donor to the pro-Hutchinson PAC was Little Rock, Arkansas, businessman Warren Stephens, who contributed $1 million. Stephens is the CEO of a financial services firm in Arkansas and served on an “innovation council” Hutchinson created when he was governor.

Stephens has participated in national politics for years. He initially opposed Trump’s 2016 White House bid, but in September 2020, donated $2 million to a super PAC that worked to reelect Trump.

Hutchinson’s PAC also received $350,000 from John Tyson – the chairman of Tyson Foods Inc., one of the nation’s largest meat sellers.

Several members of the Walton family – the family that owns the largest share of Walmart – contributed to the Hutchinson PAC. Four Waltons – Alice, Jim, Steuart and Thomas – donated a combined $350,000 to America Strong and Free Action, the report shows.

Pro-Pence PAC raises $2.7 million

Committed to America PAC, the super PAC backing former Vice President Mike Pence’s presidential bid, raised just $2.7 million in the first six months of 2023, and spent less than $910,000, according to a new filing with the Federal Election Commission.

The pro-Pence PAC didn’t have a single seven-figure donation with the highest single contribution coming from Ronald Cameron, an Arkansas businessman who donated $500,000.

Cameron has contributed millions of dollars to Republican candidates and super PACs over the years including $1.5 million in combined contributions between 2019 and 2020 to a super PAC that backed former President Donald Trump’s reelection.

Committed to America PAC also received a $100,000 contribution from Stephens, the Arkansas businessman.

The PAC garnered several $100,000 donations including from Indiana-based contributors like Charlotte Lucas, the executive vice president of Lucas Oil Products Inc., and Billy Bean, the owner of a real estate brokerage company.

One of the group’s largest donations came from another PAC, the Founding Principles PAC, which is headquartered in Anderson, Indiana. The PAC gave $400,000 to the Pence-aligned group.

Big business donors boosting pro-Burgum group

Doug Burgum, the independently wealthy governor of North Dakota, is self-funding his presidential campaign, but new filings show that he is also drawing big business donors to an allied super PAC.

The group, Best of America, has raised over $11 million so far, with several donors contributing seven-figure sums.

Major donors include Frederick Burgum, a family member who gave the group $2 million; Miles White, the former CEO of Abbott Laboratories, who also gave $2 million; Robert Kagle, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, who gave $1 million; and Gary Tharaldson, a real estate and hotel developer who is the richest man in North Dakota, who also gave $1 million.

The pro-Burgum group has spent little while hauling in millions, reporting just $2,900 in expenditures so far. Early in the campaign, Burgum deployed his own fortune behind a surge of advertising that has since tapered off. Now flush with cash, reporting over $11 million in cash on hand, the pro-Burgum super PAC has begun to pick up the slack, making its first ad bookings of the campaign last week.

More than half the money to RFK’s super PAC came from a GOP donor

A super PAC supporting Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Democratic presidential campaign had raised $9.8 million as of June 30, according to new FEC filings, drawing nearly all its funds from two major donors.

The group, American Values 2024, received a $5 million contribution from Tim Mellon, a businessman and heir to the Mellon banking fortune, in April of 2023, and another $4.5 million from Gavin De Becker, an author, who contributed more than $4 million just before the filing deadline. American Values 2024 also received $100,000 from another historic fortune, via heiress Abby Rockefeller.

Mellon, the largest donor to the super PAC, has been a major donor to conservative campaigns and causes in previous election cycles, and has given millions to committees affiliated with Trump.

The two contributions from Mellon and De Becker accounted for nearly 97% of the total raised by the super PAC, which also reported that it had spent about $465,000 since the beginning of the year, and had about $9.8 million in cash on hand entering July.

In a statement touting its fundraising, the super PAC also shared that it had raised an additional $6.5 million after the most recent filing deadline, and about $550,000 last year, saying its total haul amounts to about $16.8 million so far.

This headline and story have been updated with additional reporting.

The-CNN-Wire
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CNN’s Fredreka Schouten contributed to this story.

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