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Big-dollar donors Bloomberg, Steyer have spent far less this year than in 2018

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Former Democratic Presidential Candidate Mike Bloomberg
Former Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg after announcing that he will be ending his campaign on March 4, 2020 in New York.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON —  If it’s Friday ... The special master in Mar-a-Lago case asks former President Donald Trump to back up claim that FBI planted evidence. ... Trump holds a rally in Wilmington, N.C. ... NBC’s Jonathan Allen and Sahil Kapur report that Democrats are conducting focus groups with voters about Democrat John Fetterman’s health in Pennsylvania Senate. ... NBC’s Dasha Burns observes how one-dollar homes are all the rage in the Fetterman-Oz contest. ... The Cook Political Report moves Arizona Senate from Toss Up to Lean Democrat. ... And the NRCC pulls ad spending in Ohio-09.

But first: Democrats are winning the 2022 money race when it comes to small donors. Handily.   

Yet in a reversal from 2018, they’re losing on the big-donor front, with some of their most well-known contributors — including two who ran for president in 2020 — donating far less than they did four years ago. 

The latest episode of Meet the Press Reports looks at “American Oligarchs,” the billionaires who are funding the Super PACs and other organizations that drive so much in American politics, especially the TV ads. 

According to an analysis for this project using the latest FEC reports, Democrats have raised $252.8 million from donors who have given at least $10 million (representing 43% of this total large-donor pie), while Republicans have raised $330.8 million from these donors (57%). 

That’s a change from 2018, when Dems raised $285.2 million from top donors (54% of this total amount), versus $247.8 million for Republicans (46%). 

(Note: This analysis includes only publicly disclosed donations, so it doesn’t account for the undisclosed money that finance political non-profit groups.)

What happened? 

Well, in 2018, Michael Bloomberg gave $95 million to groups primarily backing Democrats in their attempt to flip the House, making him the top individual donor. Yet as of the latest filings, Bloomberg has given just $3.1 million this cycle.

Also in 2018, Tom Steyer gave $72 million (primarily to NextGen and Need to Impeach). This cycle, however, he’s at $3.5 million. 

And four years ago, Dem donor Donald Sussman shelled out $23 million (including big checks to Senate Majority PAC, House Majority PAC, Priorities USA and EMILY’s List). This cycle, he’s just at about $800,000. 

Now other Dem donors have stepped up their contributions, including George Soros.  

But when Democrats complain that GOP Super PACs are outspending them this cycle, the near-disappearance of these Dem billionaire donors is a big reason why.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 18

That’s the number of donors of at least $10 million so far this cycle (to federal races), per a new analysis done by Meet the Press Reports for its latest episode focused on the influence of big money donors. Only five of those have primarily given to Democrats.

It’s a significant increase from the 2014 cycle, when Federal Election Commission data showed just three people hitting that donation threshold. And it’s a modest uptick from the 2018 cycle’s 14 donors of at least $10 million, especially considering that this cycle isn’t done yet. 

Click to read more on the Meet the Press Blog and watch the full episode of Meet the Press Reports, which features an in-depth interview with megadonor Samuel Bankman-Fried about why he’s decided to sink tens of millions into this year’s midterm elections and why he’s considering spending $1 billion on the 2024 presidential election. 

Other numbers to know:

4: The number of policing and public safety bills the House passed on Thursday, each sponsored by a Democrat in a competitive race. 

24 months: The length of Stephen Ayres’ probation, along with community service, following his sentencing Thursday. Ayers participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and testified before the House committee investigating the riot.

$45.6 billion: How much money the Labor Departments’ inspector general estimated may have been stolen in unemployment benefits during the Covid pandemic. 

1,300: The number of arrests related to protests in Russia against President Vladimir Putin’s decision to call up reservists into active duty.

4.4 million: How many Americans have received the updated Covid booster, which targets the omicron variant, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the White House pegs the total at more than 5 million because of reporting lags). 

Tweet of the day

Midterm roundup: Candidates matter — see Ohio-09

Even with an improving environment for Democrats, Republicans are confident they have a clear path to take over the House. But problematic candidates could complicate that. 

Just look at Ohio’s 9th Congressional District. 

The National Republican Congressional Committee on Thursday cut virtually all of the ad spending it had booked in the district, removing $960,000 from the airwaves, per AdImpact. 

The cut came one day after the Associated Press reported that the GOP nominee, J.R. Majewski, misrepresented his military service and did not deploy to Afghanistan as he claimed. The NRCC’s decision to cut its spending is a sign that the committee could believe the district is not winnable, and its money would be better spent elsewhere. 

Democrats were already painting Majewski as extreme. Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s recent ads highlighting his support for the QAnon conspiracy theory and his presence at the Capitol on Jan. 6

Kaptur is one of five House Democrats up for re-election in a district Trump won in 2020. It’s the kind of district Republicans should be able to win — and the kind of district they have to win — as the battle for the House continues to tighten. 

Arizona Senate: Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly has an 8-point lead in a new AARP poll, leading Republican Blake Masters 50%-42%. (The same poll finds race for governor virtually tied.)

Georgia Senate: The New York Times reports that there is “scant” evidence that Republican Herschel Walker’s companies followed through on promises to donate profits to charities. 

Iowa Senate: The National Republican Senatorial Committee teamed up with GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley on a $56,000 TV buy, per AdImpact, launching a new ad knocking Democrat Mike Franken. 

New Hampshire Senate: A new University of New Hampshire Granite State Poll finds Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan leading Republican Don Bolduc, 49% to 41%.

Indiana Governor: GOP Sen. Mike Braun plans to run for governor next year, NBC News’ Julie Tsirkin reports. Braun’s plans werefirst reported by Indy Politics.

Maryland Governor: According to a report by The Hill, Trump will host a fundraiser for Republican nominee Dan Cox at Mar-a-Lago next month.

Ohio Governor: Democratic nominee Nan Whaley told Plain Dealer that she supports “codifying Roe,” adding that “Roe has limitations” on abortion access and she wants to return to the landscape before the court overturned Roe v. Wade.

New York-03: The House race between Republican George Santos and Democrat Robert Zimmerman is the first time two out LGBTQ congressional candidates are facing off in a general election, per NBC News’ Julie Moreau. 

Arizona Secretary of State: Republican nominee Mark Finchem revealed during a debate that he’s been interviewed as a witness by the Justice Department and by the House January 6 committee about his attendance at the riot that day, the Arizona Republic reports. And Finchem once again cast doubt on the 2020 election, calling it “irredeemably compromised.” 

Ad watch: “Read my lips” redux

“My answer … is always the same: no,” Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak says in a new ad about his commitment not to raise taxes.

“With high prices on everything from gas to groceries, the last thing we need are higher taxes. As governor, I refuse to raise taxes on Nevada families,” he says later in the commercial. 

It’s an issue Sisolak has been hammered on by Republican groups in his race for re-election against Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo. They’ve cited times that Sisolak has raised taxes, like when he signed legislation that authorized rural counties to implement a 5-cent surcharge on diesel, or when he signed a measure to avoid a scheduled decrease in state payroll taxes.

But Sisolak continues to praise the state’s rebound from Covid and double down on his promise not to raise taxes. 

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The Washington Post reports that the Biden administration has been sending Russia vague warnings against using nuclear weapons

Politico reports that top Trump allies are starting a new super PAC, blessed by the former president, to wade into the midterms more directly