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Top Republican donors have plunged into the presidential race to give an early financial edge to candidates challenging Donald Trump for the party’s nomination, as the former president’s legal problems force him to burn through his own cash pile.

According to federal campaign finance disclosures released on Monday covering the first half of the year, outside spending groups supporting Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, received a $20mn donation from Robert Bigelow, a Nevada real estate investor, as well as $2mn from Douglas Leone, global managing partner at venture capital group Sequoia. Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, the conservative packaging executives from Wisconsin, donated a combined $2mn to support DeSantis’s run.

Richard Uihlein was previously a Trump donor and one of the biggest financial backers of the January 6 2021 “March to Save America” rally at the Capitol that preceded the deadly riot.

Meanwhile, Jan Koum, the co-founder of WhatsApp, sent $5mn in support of the presidential bid of Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor. A group backing Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, received smaller contributions from top conservative donors including Stanley Druckenmiller, Jeff Yass, Harlan Crow and Anthony Scaramucci, the Wall Street financier who briefly served as communications director in the Trump White House.

The early backing for Trump’s top rivals will help them build financial war chests to keep fighting for the party’s nomination even as the former president dominates national Republican polls six months before the first primary and caucus ballots are cast in Iowa and New Hampshire in January 2024.

Although Trump and his allies are prodigious fundraisers, the latest financial disclosures show that his campaign groups have been spending about as much money as he has been raking in, due to the huge legal costs he has incurred to defend himself from federal and state criminal charges. Despite raising more than $50mn in the first half of the year, Trump’s campaign committee and his Save America political action committee spent $57mn over the same period.

The mid-year filing for Trump’s Save America political action committee alone showed more than $20mn of expenses for legal consulting and other related legal fees, including payments to more than 40 law firms.

But even as some Republican donors have put their chips on the table to deny Trump a new term in the White House, some prominent conservative financiers, such as Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone and Ken Griffin of Citadel, are still keeping their powder dry, suggesting lingering unhappiness with the field of candidates.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has started to increase fundraising for his re-election campaign. Biden and the Democratic party raised a combined $72mn for the president’s 2024 bid so far this year.

Democrats hope that he will have to spend little of the money this year fending off challenges from within the party, although Robert Kennedy Jr, a scion of America’s most famous 20th century political dynasty, is trying to disrupt that by mounting his own campaign for the Democratic nomination.

As of the end of June, DeSantis still had the most cash on hand to spend for his campaign of any other White House candidate in 2024. Between his campaign and his affiliated political action committee, the Florida governor had $109.1mn to spend, giving him ample firepower for a long campaign.

By comparison, Trump had $63.9mn of cash on hand, Biden had $48.4mn, and Tim Scott, the South Carolina Republican senator, had $38.3mn, ahead of all the other candidates from both parties. Christie, for instance, only had $7mn in cash on hand at the end of June, while Trump’s former vice-president Mike Pence had just $2.9mn.

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