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Nevada GOP mega donor largest backer for DeSantis’ campaign

Updated August 3, 2023 - 5:28 pm

Las Vegas-based aerospace mogul Robert Bigelow, a major GOP donor, was the largest single contributor to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign in the first half of 2023.

The pro-DeSantis political action committee Never Back Down has received several million-dollar donations from individuals since the start of the year, but none quite matched the $20 million donation in March from Bigelow, the Budget Suites of America owner who also bankrolled Gov. Joe Lombardo’s gubernatorial campaign, according to the committee’s midyear report that super PACs supporting 2024 GOP presidential candidates were required to file by midnight Monday.

Bigelow, who did not return the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s requests for comment, gave millions in 2022 to Nevada Republican candidates and PACs, and he became the largest donor in the 2022 midterms gubernatorial race.

In April, Bigelow told Time he was prepared to put his fortune behind DeSantis to send him to the White House, and Bigelow was the single largest donor to DeSantis’ re-election bid for governor in 2022, according to Bloomberg.

Bigelow was once a Donald Trump supporter, but he no longer could support him after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, he told Time.

Never Back Down had about $97 million on hand at the end of the reporting period, according to the Federal Election Commission report. Trump’s Save America PAC had almost $6 million on hand. Another one of his PACs, Make America Great Again Inc., reported having about $30 million on hand at the end of the reporting period.

Kenneth Miller, a political science assistant professor at UNLV who specializes in campaign finance in the United States, said the exact amount Trump has on hand is “murky” because there are multiple organizations, from a super PAC to a leadership PAC, backing him, and they often move money between each.

“It looks like what happened was, they bring in a whole lot of money, they’ve taken in a lot of donations, and they moved a lot of it into the campaign vehicle,” Miller said. “But then it turned out that the legal fees are starting to spin out of control, and at this point in the campaign, Trump needs legal advice a lot more than he needs TV ads, so he’s moving that money back over to the leadership PAC.”

Trump faces three separate indictments, one over the allegation of a Stormy Daniels payout, one in which he is accused of keeping classified documents, and the most recent one related to the Jan. 6 riot and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The Nevada residents who donated the most to Trump’s joint fundraising committee since the start of 2023 include former ambassador and physician Jeffrey Ross Gunter, who is eyeing a bid for U.S. Senate and donated more than $11,000 in June, and Elizabeth Helgelien, who is running for Congress in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District and donated $3,750 in May.

Other presidential candidates have not received many contributions from Nevada residents. The PACs supporting candidates Mike Pence, Vivek Ramaswamy, Asa Hutchinson and Tim Scott had no major Nevada donors, according to their midyear reports.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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