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Ken Griffin, the Koch brothers and other billionaire GOP megadonors consider where to spend their money after DeSantis, Haley flameouts

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First Wall Street considered Ron DeSantis. Then it went for Nikki Haley.

Now the Republican donor class is confronting a reality its wealthy members had hoped to avoid: being limited to exerting their clout in the 2024 election cycle only through state-level races, lest they be forced to bankroll Donald Trump’s White House comeback bid. 

With Trump’s overwhelming victory in the South Carolina GOP primary on Saturday, the former president moved closer to claiming his party’s nomination. The powerful Koch network, one of the deepest pockets in conservative politics, on Sunday announced that it would no longer fund Haley, South Carolina’s former two-term governor  — a major reversal that underscored traditional donors’ inability to slow Trump’s momentum.

At issue now is how big donors will redirect their money and influence given the nation’s clangorous politics and gaping divisions.

Billionaire Kenneth Griffin showed interest in DeSantis, the Florida governor, early on and then backed Haley, the former UN ambassador, with a $5 million donation in December, federal records show. But as Trump has dominated the Republican field, Griffin and others have said they’ll concentrate instead on other contests.

“I am focused on actively supporting exceptional candidates across the country, such as David McCormick, Tim Sheehy, and Larry Hogan,” Griffin said in a statement Sunday. “They share my commitment to promoting economic freedom, ensuring that every child has access to a high-quality education, putting our national debt and deficit on a sustainable footing, and safeguarding our nation’s security at home and abroad.”

Likewise, the Charles Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity Action said on Sunday that while Haley continues to have its “strong endorsement,” it’s turning toward down-ballot races.Play Video

“Given the challenges in the primary states ahead, we don’t believe any outside group can make a material difference to widen her path to victory,” the organization said in a memo Sunday regarding its decision. “And so while we will continue to endorse her, we will focus our resources where we can make the difference. And that’s the U.S. Senate and House.”

On Monday, Americans for Prosperity Action announced a $1.6 million ad campaign supporting two Republican Senate candidates — Sam Brown in Nevada and McCormick in Pennsylvania. McCormick, the former CEO of Bridgewater Associates, already has support of other top donors including Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman and Elliott Management’s Paul Singer.

Since endorsing Haley in late November, Americans for Prosperity Action has spent more than $32 million to support her, Federal Election Commission records show, with the bulk of that amount going to digital advertising and canvassing.

Haley’s bid was a haven for conservatives looking to place money on candidates other than Trump, who emerged as the frontrunner and has so far cruised through the primary even as he’s inundated with legal woes, including 91 felony counts related to everything from his effort to overturn his 2020 electoral loss to his handling of classified documents.

Fundraising had been one of Haley’s strongest attributes as a candidate, helping her to outlast about a dozen others — including DeSantis — over the span of her 12-month White House bid.

Haley’s vowed to stay in the race through the March 5 election known as Super Tuesday, in which Americans across more than a dozen states cast ballots. She is scheduled to make stops in Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, Utah and Virginia.

Fundraising Blitz

She’s set to embark on a 10-state fundraising blitz over the next 10 days leading up to that date, showing that she still retains some financial backing from donors, who consider her candidacy a hedge in the event Trump’s legal troubles knock him out of the race and who view a vote for Haley as one for democracy.

The former UN ambassador espouses traditional Republican tenets, such as a smaller role for government and a muscular US foreign policy. She’s derided Trump’s second term plan to increase tariffs on US trade partners and has called for continued support for Ukraine against Russia’s assault.

While some donors are still enthusiastic, many of those left are giving thousands of dollars or less as those who had given millions like Griffin and AFP close their checkbooks. Haley’s super PAC, which can accept unlimited donations, showed signs of a cash crunch in its most recent filing. The fundraisers this week require thousands for a couple to attend.

In South Carolina, Haley and her allies spent $13.5 million on advertising in a state where most people already knew her name and approved of her job performance as governor, according to AdImpact.

Yet she won only 40% of the vote, while Trump took 60% with spending that was a small fraction of Haley’s — some $846,000.

One donor, who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations, said some funders are concerned about the roughly 20-point margin loss in South Carolina, but were pleased to see her win some of the fastest-growing areas in the state — Charleston, Columbia and Beaufort. The person said that’s evidence she could perform well in 2028.

“We don’t want anybody to put this fire out,” said former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who is on Haley’s Texas leadership team. “We want her to keep moving forward.” Texas is one of 15 states that votes on Super Tuesday.

Another donor said they see Super Tuesday as an inflection point for the campaign and will assess continued support at that time.

“In the next 10 days, another 21 states and territories will speak,” Haley said in a speech to supporters Saturday. “They have the right to a real choice, not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate. And I have a duty to give them that choice.”

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