Ron DeSantis leads Donald Trump with a better than 6-to-1 advantage in campaign donations from lawyers, who appear eager to deny the former president a third Republican nomination.
(Bloomberg Law) — Ron DeSantis leads Donald Trump with a better than 6-to-1 advantage in campaign donations from lawyers, who appear eager to deny the former president a third Republican nomination.
DeSantis raked in more than $1.3 million in individual lawyer contributions through the end of June compared with just under $200,000 for Trump, according to federal campaign filings. DeSantis’s roots include a Harvard Law School education and time as US Navy lawyer, whereas Trump is known for publicly criticizing attorneys, ignoring their advice, not paying their bills and suing them.
“Trump is clearly at this stage antagonistic to a lot of the traditional legal norms, so that presents problems,” said Mark Braden, former chief counsel for the Republican National Committee. “Many of the larger law firms would be uncomfortable in supporting him and that flows down to the partners.”
The lawyer contributions are part of a broader effort by some GOP donors against Trump, who remains the heavy favorite to win the nomination despite facing four criminal indictments. DeSantis trails Trump by double digits in state and national polls, and his campaign has been mired by a series of staff shakeups.
“The thinking among a lot of Republican lawyers is that DeSantis is the best shot at Trump not being the nominee,” said a Washington-based law firm partner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “There’s a pretty clear-eyed sense that this is going to be hard.”
DeSantis’s fundraising from lawyers has dwarfed other candidates in the GOP primary field, including former Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott, both of South Carolina, who have raised $359,552 and $191,437, respectively, from self-identified attorneys.
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While at Harvard, DeSantis became a member of The Federalist Society, the prominent conservative legal group, and he has spoken at several events hosted by the organization in recent years.
“Among those who are active members of the Federalist Society, DeSantis is someone who is seen as a friend of the organization,” said Justin Sayfie, a Ballard Partners GOP lobbyist.
Sullivan & Cromwell
DeSantis’s campaign haul included $129,300 from attorneys at the elite Wall Street law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, the most from any employer. The firm’s co-chair, Robert Giuffra, who reportedly served on the host committee of a June fundraiser, gave $6,600, the maximum individuals can donate in the 2024 election.
In Washington, DeSantis’s backers include William Burck, the Quinn Emanuel managing partner and Fox Corp. board member who once represented Trump officials in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian election interference.
Kirkland & Ellis partner Reginald Brown, who serves on Blackstone’s board of directors, wrote a $50,000 check to pro-DeSantis Super PAC Never Back Down. Super PACs can solicit unlimited sums from individuals and corporations.
“To the extent that attorneys are looking for an alternative on the Republican side, it’s no surprise to see them coalescing around DeSantis,” said Derek Muller, a Notre Dame University law professor who has studied lawyers’ political contributions. “He’s the sitting governor of the third-largest state and was re-elected by a wide margin.”
Brown served on the host committee alongside Brownstein Hyatt lobbyist Marc Lampkin and DLA Piper national security chair Ignacio Sanchez, among others, for a June 23 fundraising event in Washington, according to an invitation obtained by Bloomberg Law.
The event was held at Brownstein Hyatt’s downtown office, a few blocks from the White House, and featured a DeSantis appearance. It required a donation of at least $1,000 for attendees.
Trump DOJ, Jones Day
DeSantis’s support in Republican legal circles includes several high-ranking Trump Justice Department officials.
Brian Benczkowski, the former head of the DOJ criminal division, and ex-associate deputy attorney general Patrick Hovakimian each gave the maximum $6,600.
Former deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue, who resisted Trump’s unfounded claims about the 2020 election, also donated $1,000.
Lawyers from Jones Day, the firm once closely associated with the Trump administration, also donated $15,700 to DeSantis. Donors included Trump-appointed US attorneys Scott Brady ($1,000) and Justin Herdman ($3,300).
“Perhaps, this is where the establishment had decided to go,” said Rick Tyler, the president of political consulting firm Foundry Strategies.
But Tyler, who once served as a senior aide for Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential run, questioned whether the money from big donors will dry up, as DeSantis gains little traction in the polls while his campaign undergoes staff shakeups and strategy shifts.
“DeSantis peaked and then he went down,” Tyler said. “Usually when that happens, you don’t come back.”
While Trump has gotten little backing from the legal sector, he has outperformed DeSantis so far in the money race. Fueled by an army of small-dollar donors, he has raised over $50 million between January and June.
The money—raised through a joint fundraising committee that splits donations to his campaign and leadership PAC—includes a surge in contributions that followed indictments in New York and Florida.
“President Trump is absolutely dominating in every single poll—both nationally and statewide—and his campaign is powered by a grassroots movement that is unmatched,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement.
The DeSantis campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Contributions from the legal industry have historically favored Democrats by a wide margin, particularly in 2020, when lawyers and law firms donated $57.8 million to President Joe Biden’s campaign and $7.4 million to Trump’s effort, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Biden has out-raised DeSantis among lawyers so far this year with $1.5 million. That money includes contributions from powerful lawyers such as Brad Karp, the chairman of Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, and Jamie Gorelick, a WilmerHale partner who once served as deputy attorney general in the Bill Clinton administration.
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