Feb 5, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Leaker of DeSantis debate memo revealed

Republican presidential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at the Courtyard by Marriott Nashua on January 19, 2024 in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a rally on Jan. 19 in Nashua, New Hampshire. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Six months after debate advice and other material had been discovered online that Never Back Down prepared for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the leakers' identity has been revealed: The super PAC behind Sen. Tim Scott.

Why it matters: It had been one of the biggest mysteries of the GOP primary and the leak "caused major suspicion inside the DeSantis campaign — and between it and the super PAC," reporter Marc Caputo, who first reported on the leaker, wrote in The Bulwark.

  • A former official of the Scott-allied group, TIM PAC, confirmed the move to Axios.

Zoom in: In August, the debate memo and other documents were revealed on the website of Axiom Strategies, which worked for the DeSantis-aligned Never Back Down super PAC, and first reported on by the New York Times.

  • The memo gave rare insight into DeSantis' plan for the the first Republican debate, which included acting as former President Trump's defender if former Gov. Chris Christie attacked him.

Zoom out: DeSantis' campaign relied heavily on super PACs, which are not allowed to coordinate with campaigns, to support his bid.

  • In addition to running ads, Never Back Down organized door-knockers in Iowa and hired staff across the state, roles typically run by the campaign.

By the numbers: DeSantis and allied super PACs spent nearly $160 million on his campaign.

  • DeSantis' main super PAC, Never Back Down, put the lion's share of the total spending, $130 million, largely towards outside consulting, television advertising and canvassing.
  • The campaign and Never Back Down spent at least $3.3 million on private airfare, according to the New York Times.
  • DeSantis' campaign ended 2023 with $9.7 million in cash on hand, while Never Back Down ended with $14.5 million.
Data: OpenSecrets and FEC filings; Note: Data includes spending from campaign committee and outside groups, including affiliated super PACs; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: OpenSecrets and FEC filings; Note: Data includes spending from campaign committee and outside groups, including affiliated super PACs; Chart: Axios Visuals

Between the lines: DeSantis' total spending pales in comparison to the self-funded Democratic presidential bids of Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer in 2020.

  • DeSantis' total spending surpassed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who also generated buzz at the start of his campaign before fizzling out.

Go deeper: DeSantis sparks 2028 speculation with post-campaign rhetoric

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