Matt Gaetz’s Fundraising Craters as He Finally Shuns Spotlight

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Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

As Rep. Matt Gaetz gears up for potential charges to drop, the Florida Republican has gotten much quieter, with fewer cable appearances and campaign events—and that decision is manifesting itself in one distinct way: fundraising.

Contributions to Gaetz’s campaign committee, Friends of Matt Gaetz, have cratered, with the congressman posting a $100,000 net loss on the quarter after donations fell off by well more than half.

In the latest federal filing, covering July through September, the self-identified “Florida Man” reported receiving slightly shy of $500,000 in donor receipts—far less than the $1.8 and $1.3 million he raised in the prior two quarters respectively.

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But the numbers are even worse than they first appear: In addition to contributions falling by more than half of the previous two quarters this year, the Gaetz campaign spent far more than it took in, with the Gaetz campaign showing roughly $613,000 in operating expenses.

While Gaetz also posted losses in the prior two quarters, his contributions were among the biggest House fundraisers. With the DOJ investigation regularly topping news reports in those months, his campaign reported donations in excess of a million dollars for both filing periods, record sums for the three-term congressman and among the highest numbers in the House. But this filing period, Gaetz placed 70th among House members in what was otherwise a banner period for his colleagues across the board.

Along with his own campaign, Gaetz’s joint fundraising account with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA)—which over the summer encountered some turbulence of its own—was once again a bust. Their shared committee, Put America First, raised less than $58,000 in the third quarter, according to its filing last week, which was about 16 percent of its second quarter haul. (Much of the money they previously raised came from $300,000 transfers they each made to the joint account, which is about as much as the tour lost in total.)

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One thing that has changed from Gaetz’s previous campaign filing is that his operation did not report any major legal expenses this quarter. This suggests the campaign hasn’t yet drained the $25,000 retainer it paid up-front to New York trial attorney Marc Fernich in June. The choice of Fernich raised eyebrows: His past clients include convicted sex traffickers Jeff Epstein and Keith Raniere, leader of the NXIVM cult, along with Mexican druglord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

Another law firm, Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, parted ways over the summer with Gaetz for unclear reasons, refunding the $25,000 retainer the campaign paid it in June. The campaign reported no refund from Fernich, who still lists the campaign among his clients.

However, the Gaetz campaign did spend an inordinate amount in compliance fees. It paid roughly $85,000 to one firm for campaign finance services over the last three months, far more than in any prior reporting period.

The government is reportedly investigating Gaetz’s possible misuse of campaign donations in furthering his other alleged crimes, including possibly sex trafficking a minor and an alleged illicit political influence scheme involving marijuana law which also touches a number of other Florida political figures.

Gaetz spokesperson Harlan Hill did not answer when asked multiple times if Gaetz’s campaign finance records had been subpoenaed.

Instead, Hill deflected, claiming that because “thousands of small-dollar donors support Congressman Gaetz’s campaign every quarter,” his campaign “subsequently [has] more reporting costs than our peers who take big PAC money.”

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That alone does not explain Gaetz’s compliance fees though, which were abnormal not just for his campaign but among his colleagues as well. For comparison, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) outraised Gaetz by more than a million dollars last quarter, with $1.1 million coming from small-dollar donors and only $2,500 from PACs. Yet she reported roughly $8,700 in compliance-related expenses—about 10 percent of Gaetz’s total.

In the spring, a series of bombshell reports about the congressman’s role in the DOJ probe—which reportedly opened last summer under Trump attorney general Bill Barr—made him a headline fixture. The revelations continued through May, when disgraced Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, whom Gaetz once described as his “wingman,” pleaded guilty to sex trafficking the same minor alleged to be at the center of the Gaetz investigation.

In June, reports surfaced that Gaetz was also allegedly under investigation for obstruction of justice, following a reported taped phone call and the seizure of his device under a federal warrant in December.

While Gaetz was previously a fixture on cable news—he appeared on Fox News 179 times since he was sworn into office in 2017—he has largely gone silent in recent months. Gaetz hasn’t been on Fox News since a bizarre interview with Tucker Carlson the night that the New York Times revealed he was under investigation, and he’s been far less cantankerous in taking on the press in recent months.

Still, Gaetz denies any wrongdoing.

With the plea, Greenberg entered into a cooperation agreement with the government. Since then, Gaetz’s former friend has been dishing on associates in a series of proffers with federal prosecutors. In July he extended his sentencing delay, citing ongoing cooperation efforts, and earlier this month extended it again, to March 2022.

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And as the news about the investigation developed this spring, a number of new entities began to appear in Gaetz’s campaign expenses. Some of them have carried over into the latest filing.

In full crisis mode after the first volley of reports in March and April, Gaetz hired public affairs firm Logan Circle Group—spokesperson Harlan Hill’s company. Between the Gaetz campaign and the Put America First tour, Logan Circle pocketed roughly a million dollars through June. But over the summer those headlines largely quieted, and the campaign’s latest report shows the firm cashing in a comparatively paltry $40,000.

Viswanag Burra, who until recently worked as a producer on former White House adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast, also made his debut in Gaetz’s last report. Burra continued to collect a campaign salary over the summer, receiving $3,189 a month for “special ops” services.

Gaetz also kept up his monthly fundraising consulting payments to Trishul, the firm former Trump White House aide Kash Patel had quietly opened in the spring. Gaetz cut the amount of those expenses dramatically, however, from $30,000 installments down to $5,000.

Patel now faces legal troubles of his own, as he was among those listed in the first round of subpoenas from the House select committee investigating the events surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. While Patel was a no-show at his scheduled deposition earlier this month, the committee has said he is “continuing to engage” with the House probe.

Patel is also now fundraising off of being subpoenaed.

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