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DeSantis Outspends Trump on Digital Ads Ahead of Debates

DeSantis is the only GOP candidate to spend over $1 million on digital ads across Meta and Google so far in 2023.

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign rally on June 26, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his committees are outspending former President Donald Trump on digital ads by almost two-fold on Meta and Google as the race between the two 2024 presidential contenders tightens, but committees affiliated with current Democratic President Joe Biden dwarf both Republican challengers.

Trump has spent $928,544 on Meta and Google — which includes Facebook, Instagram and YouTube — while DeSantis has spent $1.8 million, making him the only GOP candidate to spend over $1 million on digital ads across the platforms so far in 2023.

The two Republican candidates, who consistently topped national polls among GOP primary contenders in the 2024 presidential race, have spent a combined $2.7 million during the first half of 2023. Despite DeSantis’ advantage in advertising spending, Trump is ahead in the polls. The former president has maintained about a 50% polling average since April 2023, according to FiveThirtyEight, and recent Florida polls show the former president holds an advantage even in the state that reelected DeSantis in 2022 by 1.5 million votes.

Digital ad spending from GOP presidential candidate-backed committees has topped $4.2 million across Meta and Google, and about $1.7 million of that spending took place since the first week of June.

Digital advertising has become more transparent in recent years as some Big Tech companies like Meta and Google make digital ad spending data publicly available. But many other online platforms that allow political ads do not publicly release data on ad spending and have not implemented any public disclosure policies.

Out of all 2024 presidential candidates, the top digital ad spender on Meta and Google is Biden, whose joint fundraising committee has spent $3.4 million in the first half of 2023, dedicating $2.5 million to ads on Meta platforms and $924,300 to Google ads.

Despite having many fewer opponents this time around in his party’s primary, Biden has already outpaced the $2.7 million his committees spent on Meta and Google ads in the first seven months of 2019. That year saw candidates spending substantial sums on digital ads, scrambling to meet Democratic National Committee requirements, including having 130,000 unique donors and hitting 2% in two national polls, to participate in the party’s September debate in 2019.

Today, candidates in the crowded contest for the Republican nomination face a similar imperative. Making it to the August debate stage is what lesser-known Republican candidates need to introduce themselves to potential voters. But the Republican National Committee put new requirements in place in June for the party’s first debate, which requires campaigns to have 40,000 unique donors and maintain at least 1% in three national polls that sample 800 or more Republican primary voters.

The RNC’s rules for participation in the debate — which were previously decided by the television networks hosting them — have spawned unorthodox fundraising schemes, like entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy’s proposed commission system and sitting North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum offering $20 gift cards for $1 donations.

Burgum, currently polling at an average of 0.2%, still has to poll nationally at 1% even if his campaign gets 40,000 donors by spending $950,000 on Visa and MasterCard gift cards. The gimmick is likely to cost his campaign a lot more than his current ad budget, as Burgum only spent $151,598 on Meta and Google digital ads during the first half of 2023.

Ramaswamy spent $690,424 this year on Meta and Google digital ads, a sum bested only by Trump and DeSantis. Ramaswamy confirmed to Axios he’s met the debate’s fundraising requirements. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley spent $180,916, and her campaign told OpenSecrets her campaign had “well over” the number of donors required.

The next Federal Election Commission filings are due July 15, and will reveal how many unique donors each candidate had through June 30, as well as their complete digital ad expenditures. The content of the ads candidates’ committees are still paying to run could show signs of trouble for some long-shot candidates.

Burgum declined to share his campaign’s number of donors with Axios, but he ran a Meta ad from July 7 to July 10 telling readers about the 40,000-donor requirement, saying “$1 goes a long way.” An active Google ad the Burgum campaign spent at least $80,000 on mentions the donor requirement and says the support would “help him get on stage.”

Ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign, which has spent $10,653 on Meta digital ads, told CNN it reached the RNC’s fundraising threshold. The campaign launched several ads in July that referenced debating Trump, encouraging donors to give $1 through WinRed to “Get Christie On The Debate Stage.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said his campaign had only 5,000 unique donors, and his campaign committee has spent $56,094 so far on Meta and Google digital ads. Former Texas Rep. Will Hurd has spent just $200 the first half of 2023 on ads, and has ostensibly not met debate requirements, as he tweeted July 7 asking for help hitting 40,000 donors. Conservative radio host Larry Elder has spent nothing so far in 2023 on Meta or Google digital ads.

Former Vice President Mike Pence told Politico he hasn’t met the requirement because of his late fundraising start, only announcing his campaign for president in June. Despite his favorable polling position as the nation’s third-favorite contender for the GOP nomination, he’s only spent $37,400 so far this year on Meta and Google ads. Some of the Meta ads he’s currently running ask for $1 to help him make it to the debate stage.

Sen. Tim Scott’s campaign said he reached the donor requirement in a memo released July 12. So far, he’s the primary election’s fourth-highest digital ad spender, with $308,247 spent on Meta and Google. His campaign is giving away magnets to donors who contribute at least $2, according to Meta ads and his Winred page.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who like Pence, announced his candidacy in June and got a late start this quarter, has spent just $50,014 on Meta ads and ran some linking to his Winred page, where donors can give $1 to enter a sweepstakes for front-row tickets to a Pitbull concert.

Once their campaigns meet the fundraising and polling requirements, candidates also have to sign the Republican National Committee’s “loyalty pledge” to participate, promising support to whoever wins the nomination. Some candidates have spoken out against the pledge, but so far, only six candidates have confirmed their campaign has made it that far.

Senior Researcher Brendan Glavin contributed to this report.

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