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May 28, 2024

Self-funded candidates roil congressional races: From the Politics Desk

Self-funded candidates roil congressional races: From the Politics Desk

Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, we dive into the gusher of self-funded cash that rich candidates are pouring into congressional campaigns around the country. Plus, senior political editor Mark Murray dives into the veepstakes.

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Rich people are spending more than ever to run for Congress. A big test is coming in Maryland.

By Ben Kamisar

Wealthy office-seekers plowed more of their own money than ever into runs for Congress last year. Now, the biggest one of all is facing an important hurdle.

Democratic Rep. David Trone has given more than $57 million of his own money to his campaign for Senate in Maryland ahead of next week’s primary — a staggering sum that already ranks among the biggest self-funding campaigns in U.S. history. But he’s not alone: Self-funding congressional candidates gave more to their campaigns in 2023, $131 million, than in any other odd year going back to at least 2003, according to an NBC News review of campaign finance records.

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Led by nearly $37 million from Trone last year alone, it’s part of a recent explosion of spending by wealthy candidates that has fundamentally shifted the way campaigns are won and lost — and perhaps made it harder than ever for the non-rich to make it to Washington, since candidates are not bound by donation limits and can give unlimited sums to their own campaigns.

The trend is affecting everything from open-seat primaries for deep red or blue districts across the country to the battle for the Senate.

Trone continues to spend heavily as he looks to win the Democratic primary for retiring Sen. Ben Cardin’s seat, before what’s expected to be a costly November battle against former Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican. Also running hard for the Democratic nomination is Angela Alsobrooks, the Prince George’s County executive who has won support from some of Maryland’s most prominent Democrats — but has been outspent 9-to-1 by Trone.

Read more →

The courtroom for Trump’s trial becomes a test of power for an ex-president and a judge

By Peter Nicholas

A striking aspect of Donald Trump’s criminal trial is Judge Juan Merchan’s no-nonsense approach and the degree to which he — and he alone — controls the proceedings.

Inside the courtroom, it’s the sitting judge and not the ex-president who reigns. Merchan resumed the trial Monday by wishing Trump, “Good morning.” That was perhaps the only pleasantry uttered during hours of testimony from the Trump Organization’s former controller, Jeffrey McConney.

When the judge entered the courtroom, Trump stood with everyone else. When the judge sat, Trump sat. As the jurors file out out during breaks, they conspicuously avoided eye contact with the famous defendant, who stood silently as they passed.

All that is normal protocol for a criminal trial. But when Trump is the defendant, protocol has been known to collapse.

In a defamation trial in January, the judge in the case, Lewis Kaplan, threatened to kick Trump out of the courtroom after the former president made audible comments during testimony from his accuser, E. Jean Carroll. The judge told Trump to “keep his voice” down at one point.

Merchan is keeping theatrics to a minimum. He set the tone at the start of Monday’s proceedings by ruling Trump had violated his gag order for the 10th time, resulting in another $1,000 fine.

The fines aren’t a workable deterrent, Merchan warned, so he upped the stakes. Further violations could well land Trump in jail, the judge said.

“The last thing I want to do is to put you in jail,” Merchan said. “You are the former president of the United States, and possibly the next president as well.”

Trump sat and listened, saying nothing.

Read more from the Trump trial here →

It’s VP audition time, and the contenders are imitating Trump

By Mark Murray

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., voted to certify the 2020 election results, and he supported a 15-week federal abortion ban during his short-lived presidential bid. 

But on “Meet the Press” Sunday, Scott refused to say he’d accept the 2024 election results no matter who wins, and he repeated Donald Trump’s stance that abortion policy should be left to the states, not to Congress — a stance Scott criticized during the GOP primary debates. 

And on CNN the same day, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who ran for president touting his “small-town values,” blasted the New York criminal trial of Trump as “politically motivated.”

Welcome to VP audition time, as the possible contenders — Scott, Burgum, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, and others — flooded the Sunday shows after appearing at a major donor retreat for Trump.

And they largely mimicked Trump’s rhetoric and defended his controversial positions.

“Donald Trump broke politics. And I think that’s a good thing,” Noem told CBS News. “We’re not going back to the days of Mitt Romney or the Bushes, now that there’s a new way to do and talk to the American people, and they appreciate it.”

Then there was Rubio, who ran against Trump in the 2016 presidential primaries, also commenting on Trump’s legal challenges: “What we’re seeing all over the country right now is the weaponization of our criminal justice system.”

And here’s more from Burgum, who acknowledged Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, but added that “irregularities” took place in that election.

CNN: Do you believe Joe Biden won the 2020 election?

BURGUM: I believe that Joe Biden won the 2020 election but I also, based on the number of votes that were in but I think that because of Covid, there was a huge number of irregularities because we changed a bunch of rules in certain places, in certain precincts, in certain states.

It all underscores how Trump has transformed today’s Republican Party, from its platform to actual Republican officials themselves. Look no further than how the different VP contenders don’t want to contradict the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee — even on issues on which they’ve differed in the past.

🗞️ Today’s top stories

  • 📱On the phone: Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday amid negotiations over a cease-fire, and Hamas later announced it had accepted a cease-fire proposal. Read more →
  • 🤫Behind closed doors: GOP donors gathered in Palm Beach, Fla., over the weekend and Trump’s campaign officials made the case for targeting Minnesota and Virginia . During the closed-door retreat, Trump also discussed his legal challenges and accused Biden of running “a Gestapo administration.” Read more →
  • 🐘Whatley weighs in : Republican National Committee Chair Michael Whatley sat down with NBC News in Palm Beach and weighed in on the push to oust Speaker Mike Johnson, the push for more Republicans to embrace early and mail voting, and challenging the 2024 election results. Read more →
  • 🤝Going on offense: After Republicans blocked a bipartisan border security bill this year, Democrats are planning a new immigration strategy, eyeing possible executive actions and planning to force Republicans in Congress to take some tough votes. Read more →
  • 🤠 All hat and no cattle?: Montana’s Senate race will help decide control of the Senate, and Democrats are looking to leverage a familiar playbook against Republican Tim Sheehy and focus on public lands. Sheehy is among the wealthy candidates Senate Republicans recruited this election cycle, and The Associated Press explores how they’re facing scrutiny over their residences and backgrounds. Read more →
  • ⛰️Granite State comeback: Former New Hampshire GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte is looking for a political comeback, this time as the Granite State’s next governor. And her run has brought more scrutiny on her time in the corporate world after she lost her Senate race in 2016. Read more →
  • 🏃🏼He’s running: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announced Monday that he would run for a fourth term. Read more →
  • 🗣️Speaking of speeches: Biden’s speeches have been noticeably shorter recently as his campaign looks to sharpen its message to voters. Read more →

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at politicsnewsletter@nbcuni.com

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