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Six things we've learned from the 2020 candidates' fundraising reports

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.
Image: Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders is greeted by audience members before a Fox News town-hall style event on Monday in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Matt Rourke / AP

WASHINGTON — Now that we can look under the hood of the 2020 candidates’ first quarter FEC fundraising reports, we’re getting a better picture of how candidates are shaping their strategies — and what their limitations are.

Here are some of our top takeaways:

  1. Among the Dems, there’s Sanders, O’Rourke and then everyone else: We knew from early totals that Sanders and O’Rourke had put up big numbers, but the latest breakdowns show how those engines chugged along at a rate that far outpaced their rivals. Sanders raised about $445k in contributions per day during the 41 days he was in the race, and O’Rourke hit about $520k a day over 18 days. The next closest was Kamala Harris, who pulled in about $172k for every day she was in.
  2. Warren is making a big gamble on a big operation: Elizabeth Warren has spent the most of any Democratic candidate, at $5.3 million in the 90 days she’s been in the race. By our count, she’s shelled out about $1.2 million on 161 staff salaries, suggesting that she’s planning to outhustle other contenders with a lot of resources on the ground early. She’s still got a big chunk of money in the bank from her $10m+ transfer from her Senate campaign, but that high spending rate meant that she burned through more than 85 percent of her Q1 contributions. The question is: How long is that spending rate sustainable?
  3. Team U.S. Senate is staying above water — mostly because of their past campaign nest eggs: Of the senators running for president, all moved at least some reserves from their Senate accounts over to their 2020 war chest. But for Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, those were very substantial investments — ranging from about a third of their topline fundraising total (for Booker) up to three-quarters (for Gillibrand). Those transfers give those candidates healthy-looking war chests, but it’s not because of great outside fundraising prowess. The exception, by the way, is Kamala Harris, who transferred about $1.2 million from her Senate campaign but raised an additional $12 million in other contributions.
  4. Buttigieg’s lean campaign: It’s striking how Buttigieg’s fundraising took off as he gained name ID and buzz. He raised just $72,000 in itemized donations (donations of $200 or more) on Jan. 23, the day he announced his exploratory committee, compared with the million+ hauls of some of his competitors on their announcement days. (Of course, Buttigieg went on to raise more than $7 million more.) He’s also spending very little so far, with a burn rate of under 10 percent and just about $200k spent on payroll and consulting. That means that he’s got plenty left in the bank to compete on a Tier One/Tier Two level, but will have to start growing out his organization to compete on the ground.
  5. Tough news for Julian Castro: Yes, it’s a crowded field, and it’s hard to catch fire. But Castro, at a $1.1m haul, is being outraised by not one but two candidates who are basically unknown outside of niche constituencies — Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang.
  6. Looming over all of this — Trump’s totals: We learned over the weekend that Trump’s campaign brought in $30 million in the first quarter and has about $40 million on hand. Combine that with the RNC’s efforts, and his reelection campaign heads into the spring with $82 million in the bank. (The Democratic candidates combined are currently sitting on about $91 million cash on hand.)

What’s more, Trump’s latest paperwork shows that — for all the talk of how Democrats are playing the small-dollar fundraising game — he’s still pulling in a lot of those under-$200 donations himself. By our math, small donations made up about 54 percent of the Trump campaign’s haul. That pales in comparison to a Sanders or a Warren, but it’s competitive or better than most of the other top-tier 2020 Democrats.

All the topline fundraising numbers in one place

Total receipts (Note, this DOES include contributions from the candidate themselves, loans and transfers)

  • Booker: $7,923,204 (this includes a transfer of $2.7 million from his Senate account)
  • Buttigieg: $7,091,224
  • Castro: $1,100,641
  • Delaney: $12,144,069 (includes loan by the candidate of $11.7m)
  • Gabbard: $4,495,769 (includes a transfer of $2.5m)
  • Gillibrand: $12,601,580 (includes a transfer of $9.6m from her Senate account)
  • Harris: $13,243,550 (includes a transfer of $1.2m from her Senate account)
  • Hickenlooper: $2,020,682
  • Inslee: $2,256,655
  • Klobuchar: $8,832,322 (includes transfer of $3.6 million from her Senate account)
  • O'Rourke: $9,373,261
  • Sanders: $20,688,027 (includes a transfer of $2.5m from his 2016 account)
  • Warren: $16,482,752 (includes a transfer of $10.4m from her Senate account)
  • Williamson: $1,546,975
  • Yang: $1,778,936

Total contributions (Note, this does NOT count contributions from the candidate themselves, loans, or transfers from other candidate accounts)

  • Booker: $5,103,710
  • Buttigieg: $7,087,894
  • Castro: $1,100,641
  • Delaney: $404,301
  • Gabbard: $1,950,149
  • Gillibrand: $2,997,884
  • Harris: $12,040,463
  • Hickenlooper: $2,018,752
  • Inslee: $2,256,655
  • Klobuchar: $5,233,125
  • O'Rourke: $9,373,261
  • Sanders: $18,186,300
  • Warren: $6,022,212
  • Williamson: $1,544,697
  • Yang: $1,778,884

Total spent

  • Booker: $1,792,193
  • Buttigieg: $685,294
  • Castro: $625,496
  • Delaney: $1,844,452
  • Gabbard: $1,706,543
  • Gillibrand: $2,433,078
  • Harris: $4,285,426
  • Hickenlooper: $685,513
  • Inslee: $843,774
  • Klobuchar: $1,849,949
  • O'Rourke: $2,511,055
  • Sanders: $5,026,076
  • Warren: $5,267,561
  • Williamson: $997,471
  • Yang: $665,965

Cash on hand

  • Booker: $6,131,010
  • Buttigieg: $6,405,929
  • Castro: $677,654
  • Delaney: $10,567,864
  • Gabbard: $2,789,225
  • Gillibrand: $10,168,502
  • Harris: $8,958,124
  • Hickenlooper: $1,335,168
  • Inslee: $1,412,880
  • Klobuchar:$6,982,373
  • O'Rourke: $6,862,205
  • Sanders: $15,661,950
  • Warren: $11,215,190
  • Williamson: $549,503
  • Yang: $1,151,701

Burn rate (Total spent divided by total receipts)

  • Booker: 22.62%
  • Buttigieg: 9.66%
  • Castro: 56.83%
  • Delaney: 15.19%
  • Gabbard: 37.96%
  • Gillibrand: 19.3%
  • Harris: 32.36%
  • Hickenlooper: 33.92%
  • Inslee: 37.39%
  • Klobuchar:20.5%
  • O'Rourke: 26.79%
  • Sanders: 24.29%
  • Warren: 31.96%
  • Williamson: 64.48%
  • Yang: 37.44%

Bernie Sanders releases 10 years of tax returns

It was a battle in the 2016 Democratic primary. It was a topic of repeated questioning in the run up to his announcement. But finally: We’ve now seen 10 years of Bernie Sanders’ tax returns.

NBC’s Shaquille Brewster reports that Sanders’s total income, which previously came mostly from his U.S. Senate salary, “popped to over $1 million in 2016 and 2017, after he wrote ‘Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In’ in November 2016, raising his effective tax rate for those years to over 30 percent.”

One thing worth remembering: Back in 2016, under intense pressure to release them, Sanders only opted for a brief summary of his 2014 returns.

Shortly before that release, he said: “They are very boring tax returns. No big money from speeches, no major investments. Unfortunately — unfortunately, I remain one of the poorer members of the United States Senate. And that’s what that will show.”

Compare that with his defense — last night during a FOX News town hall— of the big payout from his book: “In my and my wife's case, I wrote a pretty good book. It was a bestseller, sold all over the world, and we made money. If anyone thinks I should apologize for writing a bestselling book, I'm sorry, I'm not gonna do it."

Our question: Sanders has been resistant to this disclosure for years, which fueled plenty of speculation about what the returns might show. If the headline all along was just “we made money” … why did Sanders absorb all those questions rather than just make the release last cycle?

(Also yesterday, Beto O’Rourke released 10 years of his own tax returns, with the most recent filing showing an income of more than $360,000.)

2020 vision: Bill Weld is in

Trump is now the first incumbent president to face a notable primary challenge since George H.W. Bush in 1992, with former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld making his longshot run official.

Weld said in his announcement that Trump’s “priorities are skewed toward promotion of himself rather than for the good of the country,” and urged “a return to the principles of Lincoln — equality, dignity and opportunity for all.”

On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden travels to South Carolina to deliver a eulogy for the late Fritz Hollings… Beto O’Rourke has a series of events in Virginia… Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker are in Iowa… Amy Klobuchar has a health care roundtable in Florida… Elizabeth Warren holds an organizing event in Colorado… John Delaney stumps in New Hampshire.. and Howard Schultz tours the southern border in Nogales, Ariz.

Clear your calendar: In case you somehow missed it

The Department of Justice says that it expects to release the redacted version of the Mueller report on Thursday morning.

Some reading while you wait: NBC’s Carol E. Lee, Hallie Jackson and Kristen Welker write that some of the more than a dozen current and former White House officials who cooperated with Mueller are worried that his report will expose them as the source of damaging information about the president.

Tweet of the Day

Data Download: The number of the day is… net +5 percent.

Net +5 percent.

That’s former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s net favorability rating among registered Alabama Republican voters in a new poll from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy.

Thirty-four percent of those voters have a favorable view of Moore in the poll, compared to 29 percent who view him unfavorably.

Moore, if you remember, is the main reason why Republicans gifted Democrats an Alabama Senate seat in 2017 after bombshell allegations that he groped women decades ago while they were teenagers and he was an adult.

Not only does Moore have a net favorability rating in the poll, but he also has a lead over the potential Alabama Senate GOP primary field.

Part of that lead is due to Moore’s overwhelming name recognition among Republican voters—two of his top potential challengers are unknown by about half of Republicans.

And the GOP establishment will likely move to bury Moore if he decides to run again, spurned by a failure to do so in 2017 and encouraged by results like this poll, where 50 percent of registered Alabama voters say they want to replace Jones with a Republican.

But as Moore continues to flirt with another bid, polling like this won’t dissuade him from doing so. And that could create another problem for the GOP.

The Lid

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how smart Americans think their own electorate is.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Firefighters have fully extinguished the Notre Dame Cathedral fire and believe the structure and main works of art have been saved.

The newly installed Interior Department Secretary is under ethics investigation by the agency’s inspector general.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Ranking Member Devin Nunes want a classified briefing from Robert Mueller.

NBC reports that Facebook leveraged user data as a way to reward allies and push back on its rivals.

Pete Buttigieg spoke with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow yesterday in a wide-ranging interview

Other news that’s out there…

Trump agenda: Subpoenas for Deutsche Bank

House committees are subpoenaing Deutsche Bank and others as they investigate President Trump’s finances, Reuters reports.

The New York Times reports that the administration’s sanctions on Iranian and Venezuelan oil may risk shocking the global market.

President Trump panned Ilhan Omar as “disrespectful to this country” in an interview with a Minnesota television station after his trip to the state Monday.

The New York Times took a deep dive into how White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has put his limited-government ideology into action.

French emergency officials panned President Trump’s suggestion to use “flying water tankers” to put out the Notre Dame Cathedral fire.

2020: Tax releases on Tax Day

The New York Times reports on how Bernie Sanders’ Democratic opponents are struggling to stop him from winning the party’s nomination.

Beto O’Rourke released 10 years of tax returns Monday, the same day Sanders released his returns.

Politico has a graphical breakdown of the Democratic presidential candidates’ first quarter fundraising hauls.