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Disclosures Detail Post-Scandal Payments by Northam, Fairfax’s PACs

Northam at a press conference on February 2.
Northam at a press conference on February 2 Craig Carper/WCVE News

The political action committees of Virginia’s top two Democrats paid tens of thousands of dollars to communication and law firms in the wake of scandals in February, according to financial disclosure forms filed late on Monday.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s PAC paid over $30,000 to a crisis communications firm for two weeks of consultations.

Northam’s PAC, called The Way Ahead, also paid the Atlanta-based law firm Alston & Bird $25,000 on February 8.

The payments came as the governor battled calls for his resignation in the wake of a racist yearbook photo that emerged on February 1.

Mark Bergman, who heads the PAC, wouldn’t elaborate on the payment to Alston & Bird except to say it covered “legal services” for the PAC. The governor’s communication team didn’t respond to questions related to the payment.

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax’s PAC, We Rise Together, also made a $25,000 payment to McGuireWoods, a well-connected Richmond law and lobbying firm on February 26, the day after the end of Virginia’s legislative session. Fairfax closed out the session the day before with a speech in which he compared himself to victims of lynching.

Two women accused Fairfax of sexual assaults in early February. Fairfax  retained the DC law firm of Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz in January 2018 as the Washington Post investigated the first of those claims.

A spokeswoman for Fairfax said the payment to McGuireWoods was for legal services, not lobbying, but declined to elaborate on the payment.

Under Virginia law, candidates and officeholders can raise unlimited amounts of PAC money and spend it on a variety of expenses as long as those payments are reported to the state.

Northam and Fairfax also took a fundraising hit to their respective PACs in the wake of their scandals.

Northam’s PAC raised $205,000 in contributions above $100 before the scandals surfaced compared to $2,500 after, according to an analysis from the Virginia Public Access Project.

Fairfax’s PAC raised $1,950 in contributions above $100 before the allegations emerged compared to no contributions after.

Veteran political analyst Bob Holsworth said that Fairfax’s payment to McGuireWoods made sense given his call for a criminal investigation into the allegations against him, while Northam’s payment to Alston & Bird was less clear. Holsworth said their inability to fundraise could handicap the party in November, with Democrats candidates also potentially less liable to accept donations from the PACs.

“All the Democrats right now are just trying to understand what they’ll be able to do and what they won’t be able to do with respect to the governor and the other statewide officeholders,” Holsworth said.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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