Virginia Democrats Take Fundraising Hit After Scandals

This graph from the Virginia Public Access Project shows fundraising numbers before and after election-year legislative sessions during the tenures of Democratic Governor Ralph Northam and his predecessors.

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – Blackface and sexual assault scandals dragged down fundraising efforts by Virginia’s Democratic executive branch, according to numbers released Monday night ahead of this year’s state legislative races.

Political action committees linked to Governor Ralph Northam, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring all saw massive dips in fundraising after their respective scandals broke during the most recent legislative session that ended in February.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonprofit government accountability group, Northam raised only $2,500 after it was discovered his college yearbook included a photo of him in blackface. Fairfax, who faces sexual assault allegations dating back decades, raised no money at all post-scandal. And Herring, who admitted to wearing blackface but has yet to be identified in a photo, raised under $17,250.

All 140 state House and Senate seats are up for grabs in November’s election.

These numbers compared to the administrations of Northam’s predecessors, who often raised tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars during the same time period after election-year legislative sessions, paint a picture the state’s Republican Party is eager to exploit.

“This issue isn’t going away. I think it bodes well for us,” John Findlay, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, said in a phone interview.

He said his party hopes to point to the widely publicized scandals down-ballot as well. If Northam sends even a penny of his $1 million overall war chest to Democrats, Findlay promised to inform voters in every district if and when the candidate takes money from the beleaguered executives.

”They’re going to have to answer, in these districts, to Democrats, especially African-American Democrats, on why it’s okay for them to take this money,” he said.

But Shaun Kenney, former executive director of the Virginia GOP, was less enthused by the new reports. He called the low numbers from the executive branch a “temporary blip but not a permanent feature.”

He pointed to the dismal turnout for Republican candidates in statewide races in the last decade, in addition to their 15-seat loss in the House of Delegates in 2017 which helped coin the term the “blue wave.” While the state GOP has followed President Donald Trump in their brutal attacks against Democrats up and down the ticket, Kenney isn’t sure the strategy will work anymore than it did in the past.  

“The Virginia GOP is more of a net drain than an add,” he said in a phone interview.

But he wasn’t all that worried about Democratic fundraising numbers either. He said the data showed Democratic fundraising was strong in the first quarter, but the cash-on-hand advantage remains with the GOP.

Kenney said that money is “going to grind them out.”

Chaz Nuttycombe, a political analyst who specializes in data analytics, agrees that the cash on hand is going to play a large role going forward, but in the more competitive districts, in a year where both GOP-controlled chambers could change hands if Republicans lose one or two seats, the left is doing better than expected.

“Democrats are getting outraised when you accumulate all candidates on both parties,” he said in a phone interview. “However, for the most part, Democrats are outraising in competitive races which is what matters.”

And then there’s the “blue wave,” factor, something Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director for the Wason Center for Public Policy in Norfolk, said will really decide the race. She said Democrats did so well in 2017 because Trump helped nationalize the race, and that’s a trend that could continue in 2019.

She said that would be good for Democrats despite troubles in the state’s executive branch.

The governor and other higher-ups are often fundraising powerhouses for legislators. But if the left continues to nationalize state races by focusing on Trump, and Republicans try to tie state lawmakers to national Democratic figures, the fundraising problem could be overcome. Trump remains very unpopular in Virginia after losing the state to Hillary Clinton by almost 5% in the 2016 election.

Either way, Bitecofer thinks there will be a lot of money spent before Nov. 5 when Virginians go to the polls.

“The optics on winning these elections are very important on how voters see the competition in 2020 too,” she said.

Northam’s office did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

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