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As election year begins, Democrats wield financial advantage in congressional races

Nevada Democrats in battleground races have raked in cash, while outside groups are beginning to buy ads in the highest-profile competition.
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
Sean Golonka
Sean Golonka
Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
Campaign FinanceElection 2024

While Nevada Republican congressional challengers are locked in tight primaries and fighting to build an edge through fundraising advantages, the state’s Democratic incumbents have continued to pack their war chests with less than a year until the 2024 election.

Wednesday marked the deadline for congressional candidates to submit reports to the U.S. Federal Election Commission detailing their campaign finance activity in the fourth quarter of 2023, covering October through December.

The state’s top congressional fundraiser during that period was Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who ended 2023 with a record $10.6 million in cash on hand as she prepares for a fierce re-election campaign likely to be among the country’s most expensive federal races. A Nevada Independent analysis of the fundraising data in the Senate race shows nearly 5,500 unique donors contributed to the four leading candidates, with about 80 percent supporting Rosen and many from California and Nevada. 

Though somewhat overshadowed by the presidential race, Rosen and Nevada’s three House Democrats have continued to raise money at a similar pace to the 2022 election cycle — a record-setting midterm in Nevada for election spending.

Their Republican opponents, meanwhile, have largely lagged behind on fundraising totals, failing to bring in the same level of cash in races that Republicans hope can be competitive after Democrats swept the state’s competitive congressional races in 2022.

Still across the aisle, some primary battles are taking shape, including in the Senate race, where establishment-backed Republican Sam Brown outraised his closest GOP opponent by a margin of more than 8-to-1. In multiple other contests, Republican challengers are propping up their campaigns through self-funding, while trailing far behind in contributions from individual donors.

Read below for takeaways from key campaign finance reports.

Democrats still dominate the fundraising battle

In most of the state’s competitive federal races, Nevada Democrats have taken large leads in fundraising, continuing their trend of significantly outraising opponents.

The discrepancy was most apparent for Rosen, who significantly bested Republican frontrunner Sam Brown’s fourth quarter fundraising total by bringing in more than $3.2 million and lifting her cash on hand to more than $10.6 million. Brown raised $1.85 million this quarter and had $1.7 million in his account headed into 2024, while no other Senate challenger had more than $60,000 in the bank.

Rosen — who had over 4,000 unique donors outside of Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue — was the beneficiary of over $1.4 million in ActBlue donations. She also received contributions from a number of PACs, including pro-choice group EMILY’s List and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), as well as interest groups in Nevada such as the League of Conservation Voters and the American Gaming Association. 

That strength of Democrats’ small-dollar Act Blue digital fundraising platform and interest groups apparatus carried over to Reps. Steven Horsford (D-NV) and Susie Lee (D-NV) — both of whom ended 2023 with hundreds of thousands of dollars more in cash on hand than their closest GOP challengers. 

The exception to Democrats’ dominance was Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), the longest-serving member of the state’s congressional delegation. She raised $237,000 this quarter and has $638,000 on hand. Titus’ haul, while an improvement on her $122,300 third quarter, is still far behind Horsford’s $600,000 quarter and Lee’s $694,000. 

Formerly in a safe Democratic seat, Titus’ district was redrawn and made more competitive ahead of the 2022 cycle in an attempt to shore up Horsford’s and Lee’s districts. Her fundraising still lagged her congressional neighbors — her fourth quarter 2021 haul was $273,000 — but she won her 2022 race by over 5 points. 

Like Lee and Horsford, Titus also benefited heavily from spending from outside groups dedicated to protecting Democrats in battleground House seats.

Titus’ spending also lags Horsford’s and Lee’s. Titus only spent about $40,000 in the fourth quarter, while Horsford spent nearly $285,000 and Lee spent $239,000, primarily on campaign travel, events and consulting.

GOP House contenders are leveling the field with their own money

One of Titus’ GOP opponents — Flemming Larsen — is using substantial amounts of his own money to even the fundraising playing field in Congressional District 1. 

Larsen —a Henderson restaurateur — reported raising more than $77,000 in the fourth quarter, well above the $7,000 raised by fellow Republican hopeful Mark Robertson, who lost to Titus in 2022. But Larsen augmented that total with $400,000 in personal loans to his campaign, a sum that brings his total loans so far to $1.25 million. 

Most of that money is still sitting in Larsen’s $1.3 million war chest, after he only reported spending about $113,000 in the fourth quarter, primarily to a pair of consulting firms. 

Opposite Horsford in Congressional District 4, Republican David Flippo led the GOP primary field with nearly $407,000 raised. But nearly all of that money — $400,500 — came from donations Flippo, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, made to his own campaign.

Flippo’s Republican competition, former North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, brought in more than $122,000 in the fourth quarter. That included support from a handful of business interests and familiar names in GOP politics — Ahern Rentals President Don Ahern and his wife (nearly $10,000), car dealership owner Jim Marsh ($1,500) and Roger Primm, son of casino developer Gary Primm ($6,600). 

GOP fundraising was muddier in District 3, where top Republican recruit Heidi Kasama dropped out in early January in order to defend her Las Vegas-area Assembly seat. She ended her congressional foray with $143,000 raised and $397,000 on hand. 

Lee’s newest high-profile GOP challenger, former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz, launched his bid after the fundraising reporting deadline but has pledged to support his campaign with $1 million of his own funds. That amount from Schwartz, historically self-funded, would still put him well behind Lee in total cash on hand.

Former state Sen. Elizabeth Helgelien (R-Las Vegas) led the remaining field with roughly $50,000 raised — substantially behind Kasama, but well above the $13,700 raised by her last remaining GOP rival, Drew Johnson. His campaign said Johnson loaned himself $200,000 in January, after the close of the reporting period.

Brown stands atop the GOP Senate field

While Brown’s fundraising still significantly lags Rosen, his campaign operation brought in more than $1.5 million more this quarter than his next closest opponent in the crowded GOP Senate primary field. Brown, a U.S. Army veteran who was severely burned while serving in Afghanistan, is backed by several national Republicans.

Brown also received funding from a number of PACs affiliated with Senate Republicans — Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Pete Ricketts (R-NE), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) among them.

In total, he raised $1.85 million this quarter, including $473,000 in small-dollar donations from Republicans’ WinRed digital fundraising platform. His spending — $1.06 million this quarter — also reflects an active campaign operation with expenses for direct mail and in-state travel.

However, Brown’s campaign is also nearly $600,000 in debt with obligations owed to several political consulting groups.

Brown’s top primary challengers reported fundraising totals closer to amounts raised by House candidates.

Former Trump-appointed Ambassador to Iceland Jeff Gunter raised only $215,000. Among itemized donors (those who contributed at least $200), only seven live in Nevada, with far more of his support coming from California and Texas (Gunter is a dermatologist with practices in California and Nevada). He also filed an updated version of his third quarter report that reduced his fundraising total for that period from $416,000 to $191,000 because of the removal of a $225,000 candidate loan. In a note attached to the amended report, his campaign wrote that Gunter “believes the loan to be lost in the mail,” and that he “intends to send a new loan which will be reflected on future reports.”

Gunter also reported spending more than he took in this quarter, leaving his campaign with just $29,000 in the bank. Nearly all of the spending went to consultants and digital services. Gunter himself has also fronted $178,000 to his campaign that it now owes him, and he owes an additional $47,000 to multiple consulting groups (about $35,000 of which his campaign is disputing).

Former assemblyman and prominent election denier Jim Marchant, who ran for secretary of state last cycle, reported raising about $160,000 in the quarter. Like Gunter, the vast majority of that money came from out of state — mostly from Florida, where Marchant is from. He spent $138,000 this quarter — almost half of which ($67,000) was spent at Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump’s Florida resort, on fundraisers, including a Dec. 21 event featuring Joe Pizza, who, with his wife, contributed $6,600 to Marchant.

Candidates Tony Grady and Stephanie Phillips raised about $36,000 and $11,000, respectively.

Where’s the money coming from in the Senate race?

Donors for Brown and Rosen came from across the country.

Rosen received donations from all 50 states, with Californians and Nevadans the most likely to contribute. Her campaign saw 896 unique California donors in the reporting period (contributing nearly $530,000 total) and 650 unique donors from Nevada that together contributed more than $460,000. Twelve states had at least 100 unique donors giving to Rosen’s re-election campaign in the reporting period.

Meanwhile, Brown received donations from 47 states but most of the donations were concentrated in just a few states, as only four states had more than 30 unique donors. He received money from 207 unique Nevadans — good for more than $225,000 — and 101 unique Texans, who contributed close to $90,000 total. Brown previously lived in Texas.

These numbers do not include donations from popular fundraising platforms ActBlue or WinRed, and are based only on itemized donations — generally those of $200 or more.

Donors for Gunter and Marchant, who posted the third and fourth highest fundraising hauls in the Senate race, were more geographically concentrated. Only seven Nevadans donated to Gunter, who had more donors in six other states. Marchant only received donations from 23 states, and nearly one-third of donors were from Florida. He received donations from six Nevadans.

The super PACs are coming!

Continuing a common trend in modern politics, the top races appear likely to be dominated by spending from outside groups — and not the candidates themselves. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission paved the way for the rise of super PACs that can raise and spend unlimited amounts, these groups have wielded immense influence over federal elections.

In 2022, outside groups spent more than $123 million in the Nevada Senate race and nearly $25 million in the Congressional District 3 race, making both contests among the most expensive races in the country, according to data from research firm OpenSecrets. A similar dynamic is already playing out in this year’s elections.

Though it came after the end of the fourth quarter fundraising period, the Democratic Senate Majority PAC has planned a $36 million ad buy in Nevada to support Rosen, according to Politico. Already the group has begun placing those television reservations through a newly created super PAC called WinSenate, which is registered to longtime Nevada Democratic operative Rebecca Lambe.

Across the aisle, pro-Brown super PAC Duty First Nevada has already reported spending about $543,000 on television ads and text communications to support Brown. 

That’s far behind the reservations pledged to support Rosen — and evidence of her financial edge in this race — but in one of a few battleground Senate races in the country, Brown is likely to rely on support from other key Republican super PACs, such as the Senate Leadership Fund, a group aligned with McConnell, the Senate Republican Leader. 


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