Robert Bigelow, a hotel magnate often cited for his eccentric beliefs about the galaxy and the afterlife, paid $10 million to a political committee controlled by DeSantis on July 7, according to records kept by the committee on its website. It is the largest individual contribution ever recorded in Florida, where there is no limit to the amount a person or company can donate to a political committee.
The eight-figure check will go into an already huge war chest that DeSantis has built up as he seeks re-election. As of July 1, DeSantis’ political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, and his campaign said they had sat on a total of $118 million. That figure will continue to rise after Bigelow’s contribution to the state is officially documented.
A Florida Republican agent recently told CNN that DeSantis is expected to raise $200 million by the November election, and he’s on track to hit that number. Prior to Bigelow’s donation, investment firm Citadel founder Ken Griffin’s $5 million contribution was the largest by an individual to Friends of Ron DeSantis.
Bigelow did not immediately return a message left with an assistant at Bigelow Aerospace’s Las Vegas headquarters. A DeSantis spokesperson did not respond when asked if DeSantis had met with Bigelow.
Bigelow owns a chain of budget hotels and has become a pioneer in the commercial space industry. His company built the inflatable room used on the International Space Station, and Bigelow once hoped the technology could be used to fund orbital hotels. Forbes magazine in 2011 described him as a “cosmic proprietor”.
His ambitions have sometimes intersected with Florida’s space interests. In 2011, Bigelow signed a memorandum of understanding with Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development agency, to find companies that could benefit from Bigelow’s technology. He has also worked directly with NASA, which often launches its rockets from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Bigelow is generally not known for funding Republican campaigns. The donation to DeSantis appears to be Bigelow’s first to a state candidate or Florida political committee, according to a review of a state campaign finance database.
But since the start of 2021, Bigelow has opened his checkbook for a handful of GOP causes. He donated $50,000 to the Noem Victory Fund, a federal political committee that supports North Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, $10,000 to Maggie’s List, a group that supports conservative women running for office, 2 $000 to the Republican National Committee and about $5,800 to the Rep. Kat Cammack, a Republican from North Florida.
More recently, Bigelow started the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies to determine if there is life after death. The initiative included a $1 million competition for scientists, religious scholars, researchers and others to produce evidence that human consciousness can survive bodily death.