How much money did Ron DeSantis spend against Trump?

It cost Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida more than $160 million to come in second in the single-nomination contest.

That astonishing amount makes the failed presidential candidacy of Mr. DeSantis among the most expensive in modern Republican primaries. But the details of where the money went, laid out in filings with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, show just how free Mr. DeSantis and his super PAC allies have been.

They funneled at least $53 million through firms controlled or owned by Jeff Roe, a powerful Republican strategist who served as general counsel to Never Back Down, the main super PAC of Mr. DeSantis.

They spent $31.3 million on television advertising.

They spent at least $3.3 million on private airfare between the campaign and Never Back Down.

And they donated roughly $110,000 to the campaigns of state and federal elected officials who supported Mr. DeSantis.

All by 23,420 votes in Iowa.

Most of the money — $130 million — was spent by Never Back Down. Super PAC was supposed to be the secret weapon of Mr. DeSantis in his quest to unseat former President Donald J. Trump, including an ambitious vetting operation designed to knock on the doors of DeSantis supporters as many as five times. His campaign spent an additional $28 million.

Hugely expensive efforts gave negligible results and Mr. DeSantis decided to drop out before the New Hampshire primary and support Mr. Trump. But he tested the limits of campaign finance laws.

Never Back Down has taken on an unprecedented role in managing the campaign of Mr. DeSantis, although campaigns and super PACs are not allowed to coordinate their strategies. Mr. DeSantis has turned over many of the duties traditionally overseen by campaign officials — such as organizing events and organizing get-out-the-vote efforts — to an outside group.

The awkward arrangement left key decisions in the hands of super PAC leaders rather than Mr. DeSantis’s inner circle of trusted advisers. Tensions between Never Back Down and the campaign have sparked a flurry of negative news stories that have at times overshadowed Mr. DeSantis’ candidacy, particularly among wealthy donors.

Representatives for the DeSantis and Never Back Down campaigns did not respond to requests for comment. Neither is Mr. Roe.

Mr. DeSantis was not the only Republican candidate this cycle to spend huge sums only to drop out. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina entered the race with $22 million in campaign cash, carried over from his 2022 re-election bid. Within weeks, a super PAC backing him had raised an additional $20 million.

But by the fall, Mr. Scott’s fundraising flow dried up as enthusiasm for his candidacy waned, new federal filings show. His groups have been big spenders, with total campaign spending of more than $30 million and a super PAC shelling out $21.8 million, including about $15 million for advertising.

The details of his spending are difficult to discern, as much of the money went to two limited liability companies with no other apparent business, based in suburban Staples stores.

Finally, Mr. Scott didn’t even make it to Iowa, dropping out in November.

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy poured $25.6 million of his own money into his campaign, in loans and contributions, before dropping out of the race after coming in fourth in Iowa. At the end of December, his campaign had $1.5 million left. The super PAC backing him has raised $8.7 million and spent almost all of it.

Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota, a wealthy businessman, loaned his campaign $14.8 million; the campaign spent $17.8 million before he left the race in December. The super PAC backing him has raised $24.1 million and spent $24 million.

But the offer of Mr. DeSantisa and her collapse stand out for their scale. Other than Mr. Trump, no other candidate entered the race with more financial support, more fanfare or more poll numbers.

By the time Mr. DeSantis entered the race in late May, Never Back Down had a war chest of nearly $120 million, including more than $80 million left over from Mr. DeSantis for Governor of Florida. In his first six weeks as a candidate, his campaign also raised more than $20 million. (Unlike campaigns, super PACs are allowed to accept unlimited amounts of money from donors, making them a vehicle for the ultra-rich to support candidates.)

Never Back Down planned a $100 million ground game to mobilize voters across the country, including a massive voter push that would use paid door-knocking to reach likely DeSantis voters in early nominating states. The group has pledged to raise $200 million.

Warning signs soon appeared.

Mr. DeSantis insisted on flying private jets, a habit he picked up during his time in Tallahassee — and unsustainable for a candidate who was not independently wealthy.

The campaign spent beyond its means in its opening weeks, prompting a reshuffle and deep layoffs in July. Never Back Down, which also put up large sums of money, picked up much of the slack, the records show, including paying the bills for Mr. DeSantis’ flights.

Mr. Roe was a central figure in DeSantis’ candidacy, and the large sums that flowed through his companies reflect his ambitions to run the nation’s largest political consulting firm. He sometimes attracted unwanted publicity on the campaign trail and was the target of derision from Trump surrogates. He left the super PAC in December as the group collapsed in turmoil.

Never Back Down also quietly sent some of its money, $2.75 million, to Win It Back, a super PAC backed by the Caucus for Growth, an influential conservative anti-tax group. Around the same time, Win It Back released a series of anti-Trump ads. The contribution was discovered only after Mr. DeSantis gave up.

While Mr. With DeSantis pulling his punches against Mr. Trump for much of the campaign, the donation illustrated how super PACs can be used to do a candidate’s dirty work without leaving many fingerprints.

Win It Back eventually pulled the ads, saying it found they were unpopular with Republican voters — a sign of the apparent futility of challenging Mr. Trump in the GOP primary.

Meanwhile, another of Mr. DeSantis’ committees has been used to show its apparent gratitude to several politicians who have endorsed him at the risk of incurring Mr. Trump’s ire. The group, Great American Comeback, has donated more than $110,000 to those officials, including $6,600 to Representative Chip Roy of Texas, who has been relentlessly at odds with Mr. DeSantis in the final weeks of the campaign. More than a dozen Iowa state legislators also received contributions.

In addition to all that, fundraising Mr. DeSantis was slowing down as his poll numbers dropped and his moments as a candidate piled up. While Mr. DeSantis began the race as a favorite of many conservative donors who hoped to move away from Mr. Trump, the Florida governor has seen much of that support trickle out, first to Mr. Scott and then to former governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who remains in the race.

The campaign of Mr. DeSantisa raised less and less money each quarter in 2023; Never Back Down collected only $14.5 million in the second half of the year.

Allies of Mr. DeSantis came to the rescue, starting their own super PACs that were seeded with money from Never Back Down. The formation of new groups, Fight Right and Good Fight, led to tensions in Never Back Down, where many top officials resigned or were fired.

Fight Right and Good Fight took on television advertising, while Never Back Down focused on get-out-the-vote operations, a move publicly encouraged by the DeSantis campaign.

Two new super PACs spent $13.8 million on television ads in Iowa. Much of their money came from transfers from Never Back Down and Great American Comeback, while only a fraction came from donors, mostly wealthy Florida loyalists to Mr. DeSantis, as well as CDR Enterprises, the state’s main contractor.

By the end of 2023, Never Back Down had spent every penny of the $120 million in its coffers when Mr. DeSantis began his candidacy and then some.

Three weeks later, Mr. DeSantis is out of the running.

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