Ron DeSantis to attend fundraiser with Wall Street execs, including former Soros firm partner

Republican Florida Governor Ron Desantis arrives to kick off his campaign for the 2024 Republican U.S. presidential nomination with an evening campaign rally at the evangelical Eternity church in West Des Moines, Iowa, U.S. May 30, 2023. 

Scott Morgan | Reuters

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is coming to New York for a private presidential campaign fundraiser that’s set to be hosted by at least four Wall Street executives, including one with past ties to a firm backed by liberal billionaire George Soros, a frequent target of DeSantis and other Republicans.

The event is scheduled to take place June 29 at the swanky Yale Club, according to a copy of an invitation seen by CNBC. It will be one of DeSantis’ first fundraisers in the Big Apple since he officially launched his campaign for president last month.

It also comes soon after Donald Trump, the frontrunner in the 2024 GOP primary, was indicted on dozens of counts in a state case in Manhattan and a federal case in Miami.

New York is a lucrative fundraising hotspot for both parties. Donors in the New York metro area contributed over $680 million to their preferred political candidates during the 2022 election cycle, according to data from the nonpartisan OpenSecrets.

The hosts listed on the DeSantis invitation include Paul Ardire, a partner at GoldenTree Asset Management, along with Christian Michalik, Rob Michalik and Corwynne Carruthers, who are all leaders at Kinderhook Industries, a private equity firm with at least $5 billion in assets under management, according to data from PitchBook. GoldenTree has at least $50 billion in assets under management, PitchBook says.

Shortly after publication of this story, Ardire called CNBC to say that he was added to the gathering’s host list by “mistake.” CNBC saw two different invitations to the event showing him as a co-host.

“I think it was a misunderstanding,” Ardire said. “I said, ‘I might be able to come to the event,'” he added. Ardire said he’s not going to the event or supporting DeSantis for president because GoldenTree does not allow partners to back state-based officials for office. DeSantis is still governor of Florida and GoldenTree has an office in West Palm Beach, Fla.

According to the invitation, in order to attend the DeSantis fundraiser, a co-host must raise $50,000 and attendees to the lunch must contribute $6,600, the maximum amount a donor can give that can then be split evenly between the primary campaign account and the general election account.

An old Soros connection

One of the hosts, Michalik, was a partner at Soros Private Equity Partners, a leveraged buyout fund sponsored by George Soros, according to Michalik’s corporate biography on Kinderhook’s website.

He was a partner there from 1999 until 2003, before founding Kinderhook, according to Michalik’s LinkedIn page. The Soros private equity firm was an arm of Soros Fund Management, which was once structured as a hedge fund but is now organized as a family office. In 2001, Michalik was appointed to the board of Texas-based RLX Technologies after the Soros fund invested $40 million in the company, according to The Houston Chronicle.

Michalik has given sporadically to Republican officials, according to data from OpenSecrets. One of his biggest donations came in 2006 for $10,000 to the Republican Party of Florida. During the 2022 election cycle Michalik gave $5,800 to Jesse Reising, a Republican who lost in a primary for an Illinois House seat.

DeSantis has taken aim at candidates financed by Soros, a Democratic megadonor. “In Florida we’ve recognized the menace posed by left wing prosecutors who get elected usually with big campaign contributions from people like George Soros,” he said earlier this month while on the campaign trail.

Soros is routinely the target of attacks from other Republicans, as well.

DeSantis’ press secretary, Bryan Griffin, said in a statement to CNBC: “Governor DeSantis enjoys broad support, including from Disney expats and even a former Soros employee who rejects the woke and embraces law and order. We will gladly utilize any contributions to oppose Soros’ agenda and benefit the American people.”

(DeSantis and Disney have embroiled in a feud since last year, when the company took a stand against classroom legislation that was dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics.)

A spokesman for the campaign pointed to DeSantis’ comments from a recent interview: “Somebody does a campaign contribution and you’re supposed to lay down for them? That is not how I operate. People can support me or not support me. I call them as I see them, and if you have supported me but you’re wrong, I am going to do what’s right.”

Michalik didn’t immediately comment to CNBC.

Earlier this year, Soros said during a speech at the Munich Security Conference that he hopes the GOP primary fight for president comes down to Trump and DeSantis, which, the billionaire said, could force the former president to run as a third party candidate.

Light on support?

Another co-host is longtime DeSantis ally Robert Giuffra, a co-chair at legal giant Sullivan & Cromwell, according to the invite.

Giuffra, according to campaign finance records, is the only co-host for the event who has given six figures in contributions to Republican causes since the 2016 election cycle.

The relative lack of contributions from the other hosts suggests a possible lack of interest from some of the bigger GOP donors in the business community when it comes to helping DeSantis, according to a Republican strategist familiar with the event. This person declined to named out of fear of retribution from DeSantis and his team.

This strategist described the host lineup as surprisingly lackluster, with Giuffra as the only standout.

Steve Schwarzman, the CEO of private equity giant Blackstone and a veteran GOP megadonor, is reportedly holding off on backing DeSantis after meeting with the Florida governor, according to Bloomberg. Still, even without the help from the likes of Schwarzman, DeSantis raised over $8 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign’s launch.

Giuffra did not return requests for comment.

DeSantis and the event’s co-hosts have ties to the fundraiser’s venue due to them all being Yale graduates. Yale Club members can only be those who received a degree from the Ivy League school or “full-time graduate students who are completing a degree-granting program at Yale, and full-time professors,” according to their website.

DeSantis graduated from Yale in 2001. DeSantis said in a book released just before he ran for president that he viewed earning a degree from Yale was the equivalent of being a political “scarlet letter” in a Republican primary.

“I am one of very few people who went through both Yale and Harvard Law School and came out more conservative than when I went in,” DeSantis wrote in his book. “If I could withstand seven years of indoctrination in the Ivy League, then I will be able to survive Washington, D.C. without going native.”