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PolitiFact VA: Did Luria Flip on PAC Money?

Woman standing in truck
Rep. Elaine Luria previously pledged to not take money from corporate political action committees, but she's been accused of violating that promise to pay down debt from a competitive 2020 election. (Photo: Sam Turken, WHRO)

During the final weeks of 2020, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria accepted $34,000 in corporate PAC contributions to pay down debt from her recently successful reelection campaign.

Her actions disappointed End Citizens United, a Washington-based public interest group seeking to reform campaign finance laws. It accused her of breaking a pledge not to accept corporate donations.

So, we measured on the Flip-O-Meter whether Luria - a Democrat from the 2nd Congressional District anchored in Virginia Beach - has changed her stance on taking corporate contributions.

Luria then:
In 2018, Luria won a Democratic primary for Congress and then narrowly unseated Republican incumbent Scott Taylor in the general election.

On April 13, 2018, Luria issued a press release announcing she had been endorsed by End Citizens United. She wrote, “Our campaign finance system is broken and as a result politicians are listening to corporations and mega-donors instead of the people they were elected to serve. As a naval officer, I took a pledge to put people first and that’s why I am rejecting corporate PAC donations so coastal Virginians will know that I represent them and no one else.”

On April 25, 2018, Luria reacted on Facebook to a New York Times article in which a former congressman said he didn’t talk to lobbyists who hadn’t contributed to his campaign. Luria wrote, “This kind of pay-to-play governance is unacceptable, that's why I've pledged to reject corporate PAC donations.”

On July 16, 2018, Luria’s campaign put out a news release amplifying that she had raised more money than Taylor, even though Taylor was accepting corporate contributions. “Elaine pledged to reject corporate PAC contributions and is committed to living her value of reforming campaign finance laws,” the release said.  

Luria said during a debate on Oct. 23, 2018, “I can tell you that a key tenet in my campaign is that I am not accepting any corporate PAC contributions: Not from prescription drug companies, not from oil companies, not from health care companies, not from private prisons, not from anyone who can influence my vote when I go to Washington.”

Luria now:
Luria defeated Taylor again in a 2020 rematch. We found no record of her mentioning corporate PAC money during the campaign. She did not fill out a questionnaire from End Citizens United and did not, this time, receive the organization’s endorsement.

Luria didn’t list any corporate contributions on campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission covering from Jan. 1, 2019 through Nov. 23, 2020 - 20 days after the election. She reported her campaign ended the election $107,161 in debt.

Her latest report covers from Nov. 24, 2020 to the end of the year, and was filed with the FEC on Jan. 31, 2021. It shows she accepted during that period $34,000 from 14 corporate PACs to pay down her campaign debt.

The donations - ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, came from PACs connected to Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Rolls Royce, Altria, Google, Aflac, BAE Systems, BWX Technologies, McGuireWoods, Ernst & Young, Comcast, iHeartMedia, and Serco.

We asked Kate Fegley, Luria’s campaign manager, why the congresswoman changed her stance on corporate PAC contributions. She said Luria’s 2018 pledge not to accept such money was good only for that year’s campaign - not future races.

"Congresswoman Luria took the (End Citizens United) pledge in 2018 and fulfilled that pledge,” Fegley emailed. “She did not take the pledge in 2020.”

Fegley wrote that corporate PACs “are an effective and transparent means for employees to show support for issues important to them and their lines of work through small dollar donations.”

Corporations are forbidden to use operating funds for direct contributions to candidates. Their PACs raise money through employees’ donations. Corporations can, however, pay PAC expenses and executives can sit on boards that direct the PAC’s political donations. 

Fegley wrote that Luria is still committed to abolishing Super PACs that can raise unlimited and undisclosed contributions from individuals and companies and spend them to advocate for or against candidates. Super PACs are banned from donating directly to a candidate or coordinating their activities with political campaigns. 

Luria “is committed to doing the work to root out dark money in our political system and is not beholden to any entity but her constituents," Fegley wrote.

Our ruling:
Luria repeatedly vowed in her 2018 congressional campaign she would not accept corporate PAC donations. Then, in the weeks following her 2020 reelection, she took in a total $34,000 from 14 corporate PACs to pay down campaign debt. 

Her campaign manager’s insistence that Luria’s pledges were only good for her 2018 race is irrelevant. Luria has clearly changed her position on accepting corporate PAC money and we rate it a Full Flop.

Elaine Luria, Debate comments, Oct. 23, 2018.
Luria, Facebook post, April 25, 2018.
Elaine Luria for Congress, “ Democrat Elaine Luria Outraises Republican Scott Taylor by Over $200k in Q2,” July 16, 2018.
Elaine Luria for Congress, “ End Citizens United Endorses Elaine Luria for Congress,” April 13, 2018.
Federal Election Commission, Luria campaign finance report, 2019-2020.
Email from Kate Fegley, campaign manager for Luria, Feb. 2, 2021.
End Citizens United, Luria scorecard, 2019.
Emails and interview with Adam Bozzi, spokesperson for End Citizens United, Feb. 3, 2021.
Roll Call, “ Elaine Luria pays off campaign debt using corporate PAC money she said she’d reject,” Feb. 1, 2021.
The New York Times, “ Mulvaney, Watchdog Bureau’s Leader, Advises Bankers on Ways to Curtail Agency,” April 24, 2018.
Venable LLP, “ Forming a Corporate Political Action Committee,” January 2013.

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