Liberal Democrats in Virginia’s General Assembly elections are proving that every dollar counts in a political campaign — or, in at least one case, every $1.43.
In a year when both major parties are raking in large amounts to try to win November elections that will decide who controls the state legislature, “small dollar” donations are also on the rise, particularly among Democrats who have sworn against taking corporate money and are instead using social media to raise funds, political analysts say.
Several candidates have relied heavily on donations of $100 or less since January, led by human rights activist Qasim Rashid with 1,296 small contributions in his effort to unseat state Sen. Richard H. Stuart (R-King George), according to the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project. Del. Danica A. Roem (D-Prince William) was close behind with 1,224 such donations in her bid for a second term against Republican Kelly McGinn.
But the small donations human rights attorney Yasmine Taeb has collected for her June 11 Democratic primary election against Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) show the greatest potential benefits of that type of fundraising, said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.
Nearly 40 percent of the $54,350 Taeb collected during the first four months of the year have come through contributions of $100 or less. Some of those donations made it seem as if the sender went looking through couch cushions and change drawers for amounts such as $2.86 or $1.43. Taeb also had a $25,000 donation from the Mid-Atlantic Laborers Political Education Fund.
Most of the $185,200 Saslaw, 79, raised since January came from political action committees and businesses, with the Baltimore Washington Construction Public Employees Laborers PAC chipping in $35,000. The senator collected $465 in small donations since January, records show.
Karen Torrent, the third candidate in that race, has not raised any money, though she loaned her campaign $360.
Given that Taeb, 39, has cast her bid to unseat Saslaw as a challenge to a Democratic Party establishment that she says has grown too cozy with corporations such as Dominion Energy, the smaller donations are likely to resonate more with some voters, Farnsworth said.
“It’s obviously a lot easier to get one $25,000 donation than 1,000 $25 donations, but the optics can be very useful in a Democratic primary,” he said.
Smaller donations also make it harder to cover campaign expenses, Farnsworth said. But “the decision to not take corporate money at least gives a moral justification for being outraised.”
Taeb said her small donations — many from people outside Virginia — came through links on social media and traditional fundraising events.
She argued that the tactic is useful in a primary election.
“This is not a statewide race,” Taeb said. “As long as people know who I am on June 11, we’re confident we’ll win the election.”
Andrew Whitley, Saslaw’s campaign manager, said the longtime senator has deep connections in his district and has been regularly meeting with voters.
“She can claim that she has grass-roots support, but I could do the same thing based on the amount of time he’s spent meeting people where they are, knocking on doors and talking to voters face to face,” Whitley said.