In his victory speech after Tuesday’s Democratic primary, former governor Terry McAuliffe said Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin “has already pledged $75 million of his own private equity money to buy the governor’s mansion.”
Youngkin’s campaign said the former Carlyle Group executive plans to raise $75 million for his campaign but has not specified how much of that will come from his own bank account.
No matter the source, $75 million would be a record-smashing sum for a single gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, where unusually lax campaign-finance laws allow for unlimited personal and corporate contributions. That would exceed the combined $66 million spent on the governor’s race four years ago, when Democrat and now-Gov. Ralph Northam spent $37 million and Republican Ed Gillespie shelled out $29 million.
“It is an eye-popping amount of money,” said Mark J. Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.
Given Youngkin’s vast wealth, estimated at more than $300 million, Rozell said it might be hard for him to raise money from others.
“I can imagine some donors holding back because they think the candidate has the ability to self-fund,” he said. “And that creates a bit of a political dilemma for the candidate. It creates the perception, as Democrats will say, that he’s just trying to buy the governorship. He needs to convince donors that he needs broad-based support to showcase the strength of his political backing and how much the Republicans are all-in on this race.”
Youngkin had raised nearly $16 million for his campaign as of May 31, $12 million of that in loans from himself. Since he secured the GOP nomination in a May 8 convention, Youngkin has scaled back on public events and focused his efforts on fundraising, his spokesman said.
McAuliffe is also wealthy, listing 25 assets worth a minimum of $250,000 each on financial disclosure forms filed when he ran for governor in 2013.
But as someone who made a name for himself in politics as a prolific fundraiser for his friends Bill and Hillary Clinton, McAuliffe has not put any of his own money into his current campaign, for which he had raised about $15 million by the end of May.
McAuliffe donated $800,000 of his own money to his unsuccessful 2009 primary bid, and in 2013 he made several thousand dollars in in-kind donations to cover his travel expenses.
A McAuliffe spokesman declined to say how much money the former governor expects to raise for his current bid. His successful 2013 campaign spent $38.5 million while Republican Ken Cuccinelli spent $21 million, for a total of $59.5 million.
“Glenn Youngkin spent $9 million of his own money to buy 7,000 votes to win [the] Republican nomination,” McAuliffe spokesman Jake Rubenstein said in a written statement. “Terry was honored to get over 300,000 votes in a 5 way primary and win all 133 cities and counties in Virginia. No amount of money will convince Virginians to let Glenn do to our Commonwealth what Donald Trump did to our country.”
Youngkin’s campaign pointed to some of his fundraising successes, including the $1 million he raised in the first 10 days after getting into the race, and another $1 million in the 10 days after winning the nomination. His spokesman also took a swipe at McAuliffe for outspending his Democratic rivals, including two Black women. McAuliffe and Youngkin are White.
“Glenn Youngkin was outspent by his Republican rivals and has only been in politics for 20 weeks,” said Youngkin spokesman Matt Wolking. “Terry McAuliffe has been in politics for 40 years and still had to heavily outspend his opponents combined in order to cling to power and block a Black woman from making history. Congratulations I guess?”
Youngkin actually spent the most money in the GOP’s seven-way nomination battle; Wolking said he meant that he’d been outspent by all six rivals combined.
In his speech Tuesday, McAuliffe portrayed his own fundraising efforts as a grass-roots effort to combat Youngkin’s “private equity money.” He made a plea for ordinary Virginians to chip in “whatever you can afford” to help him build “the largest small-dollar fundraising operation in the history of the commonwealth of Virginia.”
But McAuliffe is a master at pulling in high-dollar donations, even if he does not tap his own bank account in a big way. Founding Facebook president Sean Parker, for instance, gave McAuliffe $500,000 for his 2013 bid and $250,000 for his current one.
The large sums sure to be raised for this race could backfire, Rozell said, if the candidates use the money to go overboard with messaging.
“There are diminishing returns to campaign spending. It actually, at a certain point, can be too much,” he said. “Both candidates will have more than enough resources to compete on name recognition, getting the message out, mobilizing core voters at the grass roots. They will be able to do it all. Spending on top of all of that, at a certain point, it tests the patience of a lot of voters.”