Tim Scott sees big money donor interest while Ron DeSantis hunts for cash

Republican presidential candidate U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) speaks to the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women (NHFRW) at Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Manchester, New Hampshire, May 25, 2023.

Nicholas Pfosi | Reuters

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., is seeing a wave of wealthy donor interest as he runs for president, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis struggles in the polls and hunts for donors in the ritzy Hamptons on Long Island, according to people briefed on the matter and invites to events reviewed by CNBC.

Scott is planning to make a fundraising swing through the Hamptons himself during the second week of August, according to invitations to a gathering and a Republican fundraiser working on the 2024 election cycle.

The event is scheduled to take place on Aug. 9 in the wealthy enclave and is set to be co-hosted by former Trump National Economic Council director and one-time Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn, according to Republican financier and former Trump backer turned Scott supporter Andy Sabin.

Billionaire investor Stanley Druckenmiller will co-host, Sabin told CNBC.

The invitation to the event, which was first reviewed by CNBC, shows that the fundraiser will take place in East Hampton. The exact location will be provided once donors RSVP. James Herring, a managing director at Goldman Sachs, is also listed as a co-host. Herring has already donated $6,600 to Scott’s 2024 run for president, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Marc Rowan, the CEO of Apollo Global Management and a previous Scott donor, is also listed on the invite as a co-host to the event.

Tickets for the event go anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 per person, with the money being directed toward the Tim Scott Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that benefits his presidential campaign and his leadership PAC. Couples can get into the event at $10,000.

Source: Tim Scott Campaign

The Scott event is set to happen just weeks after a fundraiser and donor meetings for DeSantis, including a gathering at the Southampton home of Robert Giuffra, who is a co-chair of legal powerhouse Sullivan & Cromwell. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will be in the Hamptons on Sunday for a fundraising event, according to an invitation reviewed by CNBC.

Even as former President Donald Trump has an overwhelming lead over DeSantis and the rest of the field in the GOP primary contest, the money race forges on.

The Giuffra event for DeSantis raised north of $250,000, with at least 50 people attending, according to people briefed on the matter. Tickets went for $3,300 per person and $6,600 per couple, according to the invite. Trump’s event over the same weekend in North Carolina reportedly raised over $2 million. Scott, meanwhile, raised just over $7 million in the second quarter and went into the third quarter with over $21 million on hand.

A spokesman for Scott’s team declined to comment. A spokesman for Cohn did not respond to a request for comment. A representative for Druckenmiller said he’d decline to comment. A Goldman spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.

Sabin, who originally told CNBC he was planning to back DeSantis before he got into the race for president, is listed as a co-host of the Scott East Hampton event. He said he can’t attend because of a prior engagement. Still, Sabin is part of a growing group of donors he says have soured on DeSantis and are now leaning toward Scott because of the Florida governor’s stance on abortion and his previous comments on the war in Ukraine.

Sabin said he’s going to connect Scott with John Catsimatidis, a previous Trump donor and billionaire, who told the Washington Examiner he will not back DeSantis because he has not returned his phone calls.

DeSantis’ problems, Scott’s gains?

Florida Governor and 2024 Republican Presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference near the Rio Grande River in Eagle Pass, Texas, on June 26, 2023. 

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

Despite an earlier report saying two DeSantis fundraising events were canceled, people familiar with the governor’s trip said that wasn’t the case. Instead, these people said, from the moment he landed in the Hamptons early last week, DeSantis was trying to recruit wealthy donors, including at gatherings with financiers at former Ambassador Clifford Sobel’s home in Southampton and at the Sebonack Golf Club, which is located in the same town and owned by businessman Michael Pascucci.

Sobel, who is a managing partner at Valor Capital Group, donated $6,600 to DeSantis’ campaign in late June, according to Federal Election Commission records. Sobel’s massive home in Southampton boasts a private pool, beach access and a tennis court, according to Virtual Globetrotting, a website that tracks the properties of the rich and famous.

Pascucci, who did not donate to DeSantis’ campaign in the second quarter, boasted in an interview with Business Jet Traveler in 2007 that he owned three private jets at the time: a Lear 55, a Gulfstream III, and and Embraer Legacy. Pascucci pledged $40 million to Bucknell University, his alma mater, in 2021.

Many of those who spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity to speak about private matters. Giuffra declined to comment. Pascucci and Sobel did not return requests for comment.

Meanwhile, as polls show DeSantis hanging well behind Trump, people familiar with the matter said that wealthy Republican megadonors such as cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder and hedge fund manager Paul Singer have both hinted to allies they are fans of Scott and could end up backing him. A spokesman for Lauder said he has not officially decided who he’s going to support. A person close to Singer said the hedge fund executive is “not making any moves anytime soon” in regards to the 2024 GOP primary fight.

Singer has been a regular contributor to Scott’s Senate campaigns since he first ran for the seat in 2014. Records show he has not given to any previous efforts in support of DeSantis. Lauder has donated over $200,000 to a DeSantis political action committee that backed his successful runs for governor, according to state campaign finance records. Politico reported earlier this month that Lauder met with Scott in Charleston after he announced his run for president.

Andrew Romeo, a spokesman for the DeSantis campaign, pointed CNBC to their fundraising efforts in the second quarter.

“Our campaign is grateful for the tens of thousands of grassroots supporters – and major donors – who have made it possible for us to build an unmatched organization in the early nominating states with the ability to compete for the long haul,” Romeo said.

DeSantis’ failure to gain traction in the race, even though many in the wealthy donor community thought he could be a strong alternative to Trump, has pushed some financiers toward Scott and other potential hopefuls such as Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, these people explained.

The Virginia governor recently met with about 50 political financiers and leaders in Aspen, Colorado, this week at the Hotel Jerome, according to a person familiar with the meeting. Youngkin is heading to the Hamptons himself in August for an event hosted by former Trump Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, according to The Messenger.

The governor was noncommittal in Colorado to the group on whether or not he’ll run for president this cycle, while he has said publicly he will not launch a campaign for president this year, this person said. The governor also admitted that if the polls and the pending primary results remain on track, with current surveys showing Trump dominating in the race, it would make virtually no sense for him to run for president this time, this person added.

Burning through cash

DeSantis’ campaign burned through cash in the second quarter. It raised just over $20 million but finished the last quarter, which ended June 30, with around $12 million on hand, according to Federal Election Commission records. The campaign spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on travel-related expenses, including private flights for the governor and hotels.

Top DeSantis aides have acknowledged that the campaign needs to address money issues and are planning for a reboot, including hefty staff cuts, according to NBC News. The campaign plans to cut costs for events, NBC News reported. DeSantis won’t travel less, but his campaign reportedly is aiming to make his appearances leaner and more intimate.

Some DeSantis donors are pointing to a key hire that could be helpful for the governor: longtime fundraising consultant Lisa Wagner who has joined the DeSantis super PAC, Never Back Down, according to two people briefed on the matter. A PAC official told CNBC that Wagner has been a “member of the finance team for some time now” and that she’s been on contract with the committee for months.

Wall Street's election bankroll, who are investors backing?

The PAC has raised $130 million since its launch, including an over $80 million transfer from a state based PAC that backed DeSantis’ successful runs for governor.

Phil Cox, one of DeSantis’ previous top advisors, will also play a larger outside role for the campaign itself, including helping on the fundraising front, some of these people said.

Wagner has extensive experience working for presidential campaigns, including Sen. Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 Republican campaigns for president. She did not return a request for comment.

Don’t expect the campaign to significantly cut spending for private air travel, though. A person familiar with DeSantis’ thinking said the governor believes he needs to fly private, at times, due to the difficulties of flying out of Florida capital Tallahassee. He also likes to fly privately with his family and, in the campaign’s view, it would be difficult flying commercial with a security team.

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