The DeSantis campaign has funnelled money into Iowa in advance of the primary season, and he has spent large sums to shore up support from from the Family Leader Foundation. The DeSantis campaign, along with the super PAC Never Back Down, and the nonprofit And to the Republic, spent a joint $95,000 on an event with the Christian foundation.
However, Reuters suggests, the real buy was the relationship with Family Leader Foundation head Bob Vander Plaats, whose endorsement would be pivotal to a DeSantis comeback in Iowa.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been down in the polls, a disappointment for a campaign that launched onto the scene prior to making an announcement of a presidential run, and has gone on to stumble ever since announcing the campaign officially on a Twitter Spaces earlier in the spring. The Iowa caucus is on January 15, 2024, and the state has a large evangelical voting base.
The $95,000 spent by the DeSantis campaign and other entities went to to sponsor an event put on by an influential Chrisitan leader in the key primary state of Iowa, a presidential candidate forum on July 14. The Family Leader Foundation event featured a booklet that was given out to the 2,000 Christian conservatives in attendance, in which the DeSantis camp had a collective three pages of ads.
In recent months, DeSantis has fired campaign staff and started to adjust campaign messaging amid dropping poll numbers.
The Family Leader Foundation's stated mission is to "[s]trengthen families, by inspiring Christ-like leadership in the home, the church, and the government."
Vander Plaats is a sought-after endorsement in the state for early primary voting as he is a leader in the Christian conservative movement and has influence in the state of Iowa.
Andrew Romeo, a DeSantis spokesman, commented that the DeSantis campaign was a “proud to sponsor an ad with one of the largest and most effective social conservative groups in the state of Iowa.”
Vander Plaats responded to Reuters for comment saying that the $95,000 sum was “not even close to exorbitant."
“My only regret is that we probably should have charged more,” Vander Plaats added.
"My endorsement has never been and never will be for sale,” Vander Plaats told Reuters. “My only interest is in bold, courageous, principled leadership."
However, as Reuters reports, "Vander Plaats has long touted the power of his endorsement. In a 2015 email sent to a conservative group and reviewed by Reuters, he took credit for Santorum winning in Iowa in 2012. 'We endorsed Rick Santorum and he stormed to a caucus victory due to our base of supporters,' Vander Plaats wrote."
Similar events seem to draw much lower sponsorship deals from presidential candidates. For example, the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition sponsors a forum for candidates each year and the sponsorship packages for the event only go up to $5,000.
Steve Scheffler, the president of the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, said his events usually have most of the cost covered by donors and not from candidates.
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