By Jason Lange, Alexandra Ulmer and Gram Slattery
WASHINGTON, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Republican Nikki Haley's deep-pocketed allies have turbo-charged spending on her presidential bid in recent weeks, a last-ditch effort to boost her chances against frontrunner Donald Trump in party nomination contests that start next month.
The SFA Fund Inc, a pro-Haley super PAC funded by business titans including former WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum, has spent over $21 million on ads and mailings backing her White House run in the nearly three months since her breakout performance in a Sept. 27 Republican debate, according to a Reuters analysis of its financial disclosures to the Federal Election Commission.
The spending was higher than that of any other super PAC during the period and a major increase from the $14 million that SFA Fund spent backing Haley, a former South Carolina governor who served as U.N. ambassador under Trump, in the three months before the debate.
In both periods, SFA Fund's outlays have been more than double the reported spending by the biggest pro-Trump super PAC, which is known as MAGA Inc. Super PACs are allowed to raise and spend unlimited sums supporting candidates but are not allowed to coordinate activity with the candidates they back.
The wave of pro-Haley spending is a sign of resistance from wealthy donors to what many - including top party officials - see as Trump's inevitable clinching of the Republican nomination to face incumbent President Joe Biden, a Democrat, in the Nov. 5 2024 presidential election.
"What remains to be seen – and what GOP elected officials seem skeptical about – is whether that extra money will win her any primaries against Trump, let alone the nomination," said Michael Robinson Byrd, a professional Republican fundraiser who is unaffiliated in the 2024 presidential election.
The pro-Haley spending is overwhelming concentrated in Iowa and New Hampshire, which hold the first two Republican nomination contests in January, said Mark Harris, the SFA Fund's chief strategist.
"We're going to continue to spend heavily in those states," Harris said.
Another pro-Haley super PAC known as AFP Action, which is affiliated with billionaire Charles Koch, has spent more than $11 million since the debate. That spending has largely been on ads attacking Trump and Democratic incumbent Joe Biden but recently it has spent heavily on digital ads supporting Haley.
Haley's poll numbers have risen throughout the spending surge and her solid performances in Republican debates, including the Sept. 27 event when she delivered aggressive but nuanced answers on healthcare, education and relations with China.
But Trump still dominates the contest.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll that closed on Monday showed Haley and another Republican hopeful, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, tied for second place with 11% of Republican support each. Trump, who has skipped the Republican candidates debates, towered above them with 61%.
The SFA Fund has so far reported raising nearly $19 million in the first half of this year, with most of the money coming from a handful of business executives. It isn't due to report more recent fundraising until January but has filed dozens of reports on expenditures.
The Trump and Haley campaigns have so far reported numbers to the Federal Election Commission on spending and fundraising through the third quarter of this year, when Trump spent $9.5 million and Haley $3.5 million.
U.S. venture capitalist Tim Draper told Reuters on Thursday he had donated $1 million to the pro-Haley SFA Fund, bringing his total contributions to some $2.25 million. Draper added he would be hosting a fundraiser for Haley in February, with a Democrat, whom he declined to name, as co-host.
'IT DOESN'T MATTER'
MAGA Inc, the main pro-Trump super PAC which started the year with $54 million in the bank, has focused much of it's spending attacking DeSantis, the Florida Republican candidate, rather than Haley, despite her recent rise in opinion polls.
Karoline Leavitt, spokeswoman for MAGA Inc, acknowledged that the pro-Haley effort was "raking in money" but dismissed her chances of upsetting Trump. "It doesn't matter how much she raises," Leavitt said.
Many of the SFA Fund's ads have focused on Haley's pledges to support Israel and confront China. The ads sometimes take swipes at DeSantis but and have not directly criticized Trump.
AFP Action's ads, however, tell voters Trump will lose to Biden by turning off independents and supercharging Democrats. The group, part of a network of Koch-controlled groups that is one of America's most influential conservative organizations, endorsed Haley on Nov. 28.
Since then it has spent more than $4 million on digital adds and efforts to canvass voters in the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, as well as in Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia, said Americans for Prosperity spokesperson Sydney Stubbs.
(Reporting by Jason Lange and Gram Slattery in Washington and by Alexandra Ulmer in San Francisco; Editing by Alistair Bell)
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