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Out-of-State Donors, Business Interests Help Fund Virginia’s Elections

Virginia State Capitol Building.
Virginia State Capitol Building. (Photo: Ben Paviour/VPM News)

This November's closely-contested legislative elections are drawing big donations from Virginia and beyond. Several new analysis from Virginia Public Access Project show the parties are drawing from different funding sources as they fight for control of the legislature.

Republicans have bemoaned out-of-state dollars they say compromise Democrats’ ability to respond to constituents.

But both parties are getting a roughly equal chunk of fundraising dollars from out-of-state donors who give more than $100, according to an analysis from VPAP.

About 15% of the donations that have gone to Democratic campaign committees came from out-of-state donors through August 31, compared to 12% for Republicans.

Donors who give less than $100 are allowed to remain anonymous, making their donations harder to track. One analysis from VPAP found that 37 cents of every $1 in small donations through ActBlue, a fundraising platform for Democrats and left-leaning groups, has come from outside Virginia. No similar analysis exists for Republicans.

Republicans have so far drawn about a third of their campaign funding from business interests, compared to 17% from Democrats.

Democrats pull a higher share of fundraising from single interest groups, like Everytown for Gun Safety, and partisan groups, like the national and state parties. Democratic candidates generally also get a higher percentage of their dollars from donors who give less than $100, according to another analysis from VPAP.

Parker Slaybaugh, a spokesman for Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, suggested many of those donors are located outside Virginia and represent radical interests.

“As the data makes clear, nearly half of their larger donations are being raked in from liberal out-of-state millionaires, far-left partisans, and extreme special interest groups,” Slaybaugh said.

Slaybaugh’s Democratic counterpart, Kathryn Gilley, called his assertions “ridiculous” and said the party was proud of its small-dollar donor support. She pointed to Nick Freitas’ (R-Culpeper) recent acceptance of $500,000 from an Illinois mega-donor as proof of double standards.

“Considering that the Republicans' campaigns are struggling to get grassroots support and the majority of the Democrats' small-dollar contributions come from Virginians, Republicans' accusation that Democrats are out of touch with Virginians is laughable, if not hypocritical,” she said in an email.

Out-of-state donations have gotten more attention from Republican lawmakers as Democrats have increased the size of their war chest. The latest campaign disclosure forms released last week show Democratic candidates have an over $1 million cash advantage over Republicans in the House, and have narrowed the gap in the Senate.

University of Mary Washington political science professor Stephen Farnsworth said parties often tried to cast their relative fundraising weaknesses as a problem for their opponents.

“I don’t know that there are a lot of politicians that refuse money from anyone, regardless of whether they come from in state or out of state,” Farnsworth said. “The reality is that Donald Trump has really energized a lot of Democrats nationally.”

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