RICHMOND — Virginia Democrats raised more money than Republicans over the past three months through state party and leadership committees, despite a string of executive branch scandals that threatened to cast a shadow over pivotal General Assembly races in November.
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s political action committee raised $309,707 between April 1 and June 30, according to campaign finance figures compiled Tuesday by the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project.
That is considerably less than what his two immediate predecessors raised at the same points in their terms. Terry McAuliffe (D) raised $1 million in the second quarter of 2015, while Robert F. McDonnell (R) raised $1.5 million in the same period in 2011.
But in all, the Democratic Party and various leadership and legislative committees took in $3.7 million over the quarter, compared with $1.6 million raised by comparable GOP political action committees.
Fundraising figures can be distorted by double-counting that results from transfers between committees, so some people regard cash on hand as a more reliable indicator of financial strength. The Democratic Party and leadership committees had $4.9 million on hand, compared with $3.7 million for Republican PACs. GOP candidates, however, maintained a lead in cash on hand.
Democrats trumpeted the quarterly finance reports as a sign that the party is moving past the scandals that engulfed Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) and Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) in February. The party believes it will have the money it needs to wrest control of the legislature from Republicans in the fall. All 140 seats in the House of Delegates and the Senate will be on the ballot. Republicans are defending a 51-48 advantage in the House and a 20-19 edge in the Senate, with one vacant seat in each chamber.
House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-
Colonial Heights) significantly outraised the governor and other statewide Democrats through two PACs he controls: Colonial Leadership Trust ($508,877) and the House Republican Campaign Committee ($535,098).
The most striking contrast in fundraising was evident in the rival state parties: The Democratic Party of Virginia raised $609,282, compared with $36,385 for the Republican Party of Virginia.
The state GOP “is not just morally bankrupt, they are just straight up bankrupt,” the Democratic Party of Virginia said on Twitter.
The state GOP said the disparity stems from strategic decisions to raise more money through PACs than through the state party. House Republican candidates had slightly more cash on hand ($6.4 million) heading into July than did House Democrats ($6.2 million). Senate Republicans had $4.9 million to Democrats’ $4.5 million.
The state GOP ridiculed some of the Democrats’ donors — “Nothing says progressive values like taking $12,500 from Walmart,” the party tweeted — and invoked the scandals that erupted around three statewide Democrats at the start of a critical election year.
“Your governor is a racist, your LG is an alleged rapist, and your AG is a racist,” the state GOP tweeted at the Democratic Party.
Fundraising by Northam, Fairfax and Herring all but dried up early this year, after Northam and Herring admitted to wearing blackface as young men, and after two women accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting them in separate incidents in the early 2000s — allegations he has denied.
Northam’s ability to resume significant fundraising, and find legislators willing to take money from him, is a sign that the party is moving forward, said Mark Bergman, director of Northam’s PAC.
“We’re all pulling together, and that is significant based on where we were over the winter,” Bergman said, noting that Northam has raised money from more than 500 individual donors and contributed more than $285,000 to fellow Democrats since the scandal broke.
Most Democrats in the legislature called for Northam’s resignation in the immediate aftermath of the scandal, as did McAuliffe, the governor’s political mentor. Northam resisted those demands, and over time, some Democrats said they had been too hasty. Others have stood by calls for Northam’s ouster but say they must work with him as long as he remains governor.
That shift has left them open to attacks from Republicans. The state GOP tweeted the image that nearly ended Northam’s political career when it came to light in February: a photo that appeared on Northam’s page in his 1984 medical school yearbook that showed one person in blackface and another under a Ku Klux Klan hood. “Not morally bankrupt,” the tweet said, sarcastically.
Northam initially apologized, but he changed course the next day during a nationally televised news conference and said he was not in the photo. At the same time, he acknowledged that he had put shoe polish on his cheeks later in 1984 to imitate Michael Jackson in a dance contest.
His campaign finance report indicates that his PAC paid the law firm of Alston & Bird $150,000 to try to determine the identities of the people in the yearbook photo. Bergman said the firm was unable to answer that question but passed on its work to a team at McGuireWoods, which pursued the same question on behalf of Eastern Virginia Medical School. That probe also failed to resolve the question.
“Meanwhile, @GovernorVA spent $150,000 on lawyers . . . wonder why?” the GOP tweeted.
McAuliffe stepped in this year to help raise money for Virginia Democrats, amid fears that the three statewide Democrats would be too hobbled to do so. He raised $258,000 over the quarter and turned nearly all of it over to the state party.
Herring raised $151,215 and Fairfax raised $60,767 but did not transfer it to any candidates or committees. Before February, Herring announced his intention to run for governor in 2021, and Fairfax was widely considered to be eyeing a run. It is unclear if either will move forward.