DeSantis’ campaign’s wealth contrasts with his middle-class background

Crist has more personal wealth but his campaign is cash-poor

By: - October 19, 2022 7:00 am

Ron DeSantis, Oct. 15, 2022. Source: Ron DeSantis Twitter.

Charlie Crist has it over on Ron DeSantis in personal wealth but not in the kind of money that matters in their race for governor: campaign cash.

Democratic former U.S. Rep. Crist declared a net worth of $2,127,850.55 as of the end of 2021, according to an amended state disclosure form he filed in June. That form updated a disclosure filed a few days earlier declaring a net worth of $1,955,862.

The Republican governor’s net worth as of Dec. 31, 2021, was $318,986.99, according to a disclosure form he filed on June 9.

Campaign money is another matter: As of the reporting period ending on Oct. 7, the latest on file, the Friends of Ron DeSantis committee had raised $194,738,867.67 in contributions big and small from all over the country. The governor’s campaign account had raised another $34,359,610.18. After expenses, the committee had $92,853,263 in cash on hand left and the campaign account had $16,606,463.53, for a combined $109, 460,326.

Democrat Charlie Crist speaks in Tallahassee on Sept. 16, 2022, as Gov. Ron DeSantis defended flying migrants from Texas to Massachusetts. Credit: Michael Moline

By contrast, the Friends of Charlie Crist raised $12,281,797.30 and Crist’s campaign $14,885,127.49. After expenses, Crist’s committee had $1,172,055 and his campaign had $1,738,825 in cash on hand, for a combined $2,910,880.

“I think Gov. DeSantis has a lot of support and I think Charlie Crist doesn’t. And I think that’s in large part because Gov. DeSantis is popular and people believe he’s going to win. And people like to back a winner,” Randy Fine, a Republican state House member from Brevard County told the Phoenix about the disparity in a telephone interview.

“Electorally, the money that really matters most is in campaign accounts,” said Kevin Cate, a consultant who worked with Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in her losing primary battle with Crist.

“We’ll see whether DeSantis empties his war chest this cycle or if he’s really just using it as a foil to raise money for his presidential campaign,” Cate said in a phone interview.

Neither campaign provided comments for this story.

Career paths

Of course, Crist has had more time to amass personal wealth: At 66, he can boast a long career in public service, having been elected to the Legislature and as a Republican state education commissioner, attorney general, and governor before becoming a Democrat.

The graduate of the Samford University Cumberland School of Law in Alabama worked as an attorney after leaving the governor’s office in 2011, joining the big Morgan & Morgan plaintiffs’ firm. He didn’t litigate many cases, according to a 2014 report by the Naples Daily News, rather acting as “rainmaker” — somebody who lines up clients to bring business to a firm.

Crist also served on the board for the St. Joe. Co., the massive North Florida land development company.

DeSantis, 44, by contrast, worked for the government — specifically, while in the U.S. Navy during the 2000s.

Based on U.S. Department of Navy records obtained earlier by the Florida Phoenix, DeSantis’s Navy experience focused on his legal work as a young Harvard-trained lawyer and officer who served as a prosecutor, defense attorney, international law attorney and a Judge Advocate General’s Corps Officer.

DeSantis’s active-duty service spanned from spring of 2004 to early 2010. (DeSantis continued to serve in the Navy Reserve after 2010.)

He ran for and was elected to Congress from Northeast Florida two years later.

Crist’s assets, according to his disclosure, included holdings in investment funds, a checking account with $92,823.23, and a 2005 Trophy Fisherman center console boat valued at $45,000.

Crist also declared $57,493.34 in Florida retirement system income and $174,000 in congressional pay for the year.

The U.S. House disclosure fund asks not for the actual amounts of investments, but ranges — for example, $500,001-$1 million. Crist held two brokerage accounts in that category each producing between $15,000 and $50,000 in income, among his other holdings.

His House report was not much changed from the one he filed for 2018.

DeSantis’ disclosure included a state retirement account worth $48,226.14; “thrift savings” holdings worth $89,065.89; and checking/savings account holdings amounting to $202,979.88.

His only listed liability was $21,284.92 — a Sallie Mae loan that did not detail whether the loan covered his attendance at Yale University or Harvard Law School. His only reported income was his $131,181.24 salary as governor. (Currently, his salary is listed as $141,400.20, according to state employee records.)

DeSantis declared a net worth in 2018, the year he ran for governor, of $283,604.52. Since then, he sold his family house in Ponte Vedra Beach for $460,000, according to a News Service of Florida report. The governor, First Lady Casey DeSantis, and their three children live in the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee.

As for the campaign cash disparity, as the Phoenix has reported, DeSantis’ deep pockets allowed him to air more than 13,000 broadcasts between Sept. 5 and 18, compared to 881 ads with a pro-Crist message, a 15-1 discrepancy. Those numbers come from a snapshot of ad buying published by the Wesleyan Media Project.

During that same period, DeSantis spent $470,000 on Facebook and Google and Crist spent $45,000.

Does it matter?

Do Floridians even know or care about politicians’ personal wealth? Susan MacManus, emerita professor of politics at the University of South Florida, suspects not.

“My guess would be that less than half of a percent could even compare the personal wealth of the two. Those statistics aren’t well known by the average voter,” she said in a telephone interview.

“Unless its someone like a Bloomberg or Elon Musk or someone of that nature, I just don’t see that as having much of an impact simply because people don’t know the relative wealth of the two,” MacManus continued.

“If anything, they just don’t like any politician because they think they’re all living on the high street while working class people are barely able to buy groceries. It’s just this imagery that politicos, well, they’re all riding high and the average person doesn’t have anything near their wealth,” she said.

It’s a fair point: The median net worth of members of Congress last year was $1 million, according to an analysis by Open Secrets. Florida’s junior U.S. senator, Rick Scott, was the wealthiest man in Congress with a net worth of $260 million.

Of course, as Cate observes, DeSantis has been acting poor in his campaign fundraising appeals. An email sent by his campaign on Sunday lamented that donations were $17,650 short of the daily goal.

“We can’t afford to fall behind even for a day. It’s going to take the help of every supporter to make sure we reach this critical goal,” the email read. “If we’re going to keep their extreme agenda out of our state, we cannot let up even for a moment in this critical final stretch of the campaign.”

“If you see his emails that he’s sending out, it’s like: ‘Emergency! The world is ending!” Yet “he’s sitting on 120 million,” Cate said.

Cate offered this observation about the last time Crist ran for governor, against millionaire Rick Scott in 2014, when the latter was up for reelection.

“When it comes to Charlie Crist running for governor as a Democrat, he did it the first time against somebody who had $100 million and this time he’s doing it against somebody who appears to likely to have about $150 million,” Cate said.

“In the course of two campaigns, Charlie has run against what appears may be $250 million, a quarter of a billion dollars.”

Not to make too fine a point of it, but Crist lost that last race.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.