Ron DeSantis’ PAC donates thousands to Iowa legislators who endorsed him

    DES MOINES, Iowa — Great American Comeback, the leadership PAC aligned with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign, has donated nearly $100,000 to a slate of Iowa legislators who have endorsed the governor’s White House bid, according to Iowa campaign finance records.

    At least 14 of the 42 Iowa state legislators who have endorsed DeSantis received donations from the leadership PAC, ranging in individual sums from $2,500 to $15,000. The first donations were made in early October, followed by several more in November and another three in December, the campaign finance records show.

    While other campaigns and leadership PACs have done this in the past, the practice is not overwhelmingly common. The disclosures provide the first glimpse at Great American Comeback’s spending since the DeSantis campaign began to use the vehicle last summer. It can raise money in concert with DeSantis’ campaign, but it has restrictions on how it can be spent — and it doesn’t have to file a campaign finance disclosure detailing its activity since July until the end of Jan. 31, after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

    Leadership PACs are often used as tools for federal candidates to distribute money to allies at both the federal and state level. Great American Comeback is a different committee than the super PACs, like Never Back Down, that have spent millions of dollars on TV ads and other activities supporting DeSantis. Unlike a super PAC, a leadership PAC is restricted by individual donation limits.

    Iowa state Senate President Amy Sinclair and state House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl — two of the governor’s most high-profile legislative endorsers — received the largest single donations to their campaign committees, at $15,000 each. Both contributions came in late Dec. 2023, according to Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board data.

    The pair of legislators endorsed DeSantis in a Des Moines Register op-ed just days before he officially announced his presidential candidacy on Twitter, the platform now known as X. Both Sinclair and Windschitl have taken forward-facing roles for DeSantis in Iowa, often appearing on the campaign trail alongside the governor.

    Other recipients of Great American Comeback donations include state Sen. Jeff Reichman, who held a closed-press event with DeSantis in Des Moines County as a part of his 99-county tour of the state earlier this year. The “Reichman for Senate” campaign committee received a $5,000 donation from the PAC. Some of DeSantis’ earliest Iowa endorsers, including state Sen. Ken Rozenboom and state Rep. Carter Nordman, also received $5,000 each to their campaigns.

    While the leadership PAC “is a separate entity from the campaign, Ron DeSantis strives to make sure the party succeeds as a whole,” DeSantis spokesman Andrew Romeo said in a statement in response to an inquiry about the donations. “Rising tides lift all boats — just as Republicans were victorious up and down the ballot in Florida under his leadership, as president, he will end the Republican Party’s culture of losing and make winning contagious,” he added.

    Earlier this summer, DeSantis’ allies linked Great American Comeback to Team DeSantis 2024, a joint fundraising committee that also fuels his campaign, so donors can write one large check that gets divided among the entities. It’s a campaign finance structure that has become increasingly popular in recent years.

    A search of Iowa’s campaign finance system for other PACs affiliated with GOP presidential candidates came up empty for donations to state legislative candidates, suggesting these contributions to DeSantis’ supporters are the only ones of their kind in this election, at least so far. But the practice of donating to endorsers during a presidential race is not unprecedented.

    Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s Jobs, Freedom, and Security PAC donated $1,000 each to at least 14 of his supporters’ Iowa campaign committees during the 2016 presidential race, according to campaign finance disclosures. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley also peppered payments from his own leadership PAC to state legislators and local Democratic parties during his run in the 2016 primaries.

    The DeSantis campaign has bet big on the first contest in Iowa, winning a powerful slate of local endorsements from the likes of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats. While the endorsements from lower-profile legislators have not generated the same headlines as the governor’s top endorsers, DeSantis is often joined by his local supporters at campaign events across the state.

    Ultimately, it remains unclear how much DeSantis’ endorsements in Iowa will help him overcome the polling gap between his campaign and former President Donald Trump’s. The December NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll showed Trump earning 51% support while DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley were in a distant fight for second place, at 19% and 16%, respectively.

    Beyond campaign committees, the DeSantis leadership PAC has also donated to at least one Iowa Republican organization. The Scott County Republican Women club received a $2,500 payment from Great American Comeback on Wednesday, per the leadership PAC’s latest Iowa filing. The organization hosted a joint event with DeSantis, Reynolds, and Rep. Chip Roy of Texas in mid-December.

    In the 2020 Democratic presidential race, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts distributed campaign funds to local Democratic organizations like the Ankeny Area Democrats, the College and Young Democrats of Iowa PAC, and the Linn County Democratic Central Committee. O’Malley, among others, took a similar approach in the 2016 Democratic primary, pushing contributions to the Iowa Senate Majority Fund and the Polk County Democrats, campaign finance records show.