Updated Apr 18, 2023, 2:31pm EDT

As other billionaires flee, Ken Griffin is sticking with Ron DeSantis in the Republican presidential race

Ken Griffin
Reuters/Mike Blake

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The News

While some wealthy donors are pulling their support for Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor can still count on billionaire Citadel founder Ken Griffin, according to a person close to him.

Griffin, who moved the headquarters of his hedge fund and market-making firm to Miami last year, does not agree with the Republican presidential hopeful on everything, but believes DeSantis would still be a strong candidate, the person close to Griffin said.

Meanwhile, billionaires Richard Uihlein and Thomas Peterffy have both recently withdrawn their backing, according to NBC and the Financial Times. DeSantis began the 2024 election cycle as a favorite of conservative donors who wanted to move on from former U.S. President Donald Trump, but poor polling numbers and a new law outlawing abortions past six weeks in Florida have eroded his donor base.

“Because of his stance on abortion and book banning…myself, and a bunch of friends, are holding our powder dry,” Peterffy told the FT.

Griffin was the third-biggest political donor in the 2022 U.S. midterm election, doling out $75 million to Republican candidates. He was also the leading backer of DeSantis’s gubernatorial reelection campaign, adding $5 million to his coffers.

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Bradley's view

Griffin has made his fortune by managing risk, but he’s shown a penchant for making bigger bets when it comes to politics, like his support for DeSantis.

It may be a somewhat emotional play to rid the Republican party of a “three-time loser” in Trump, but it’s one that wouldn’t hurt Griffin materially if it goes poorly. Thanks to a banner year at Griffin’s hedge fund in 2022, the billionaire made $4.1 billion, the largest ever single-year haul, according to Institutional Investor.  He is also set to make billions when his market-making firm goes public.

In the same way that rival hedge-fund billionaire Steve Cohen can spend irrationally on the New York Mets, his childhood baseball team that he now owns, Griffin can use his seemingly unlimited wealth to back candidates he believes in no matter what the polling numbers say.

The best example of this is the $50 million Griffin gave to Aurora, Illinois mayor Richard Irvin to unseat the state’s Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker last year. Irvin, who did not even make it out of the Republican primary, was simply a pawn in the long-running feud between Griffin and Pritzker, the billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune who has promised to give what it takes to defeat the GOP in 2024.

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Room for Disagreement

A dislike of Trump has made donors irrational, several long-time consultants said. The former president has a significant lead in recent Republican primary polls for Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and other states, according to a RealClearPolitics roundup.

The vast institutional support for DeSantis is more akin to “a beloved incumbent instead of a governor fighting culture wars,” said one person who worked for different Republican primary campaigns in 2012 and 2016. The reality, these people said, is numbers don’t lie — and right now, Trump is the clear favorite.

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