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Virginia Democrats have a fundraising edge — but face more primaries

A group of people wearing formal clothing sit on stairs in front of a large white building with columns in the front
Bob Brown
Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP File
House of Delegates members eat boxed lunches on the steps of the Virginia Capitol in Richmond, April 22, 2020. Virginia legislative candidates raised more than $20 million in cash and other donations in just over two months in the run-up to next week's primary election on Tuesday, June 20, 2023, according to a nonprofit group's analysis of campaign finance disclosures.

Finance reports show Democrats brought in about $14 million of the approximately $22 million total raised.

Virginia legislative candidates raised more than $20 million in cash and other donations in just over two months in the run-up to next week's primary election, according to a nonprofit group's analysis of campaign finance disclosures.

Democratic candidates for the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates collectively outraised their Republican peers during the reporting period that ran from April 1 through June 8, bringing in about $14 million of the approximately $22 million total. And the Democratic candidates also ended it with more cash on hand, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in politics that compiled and analyzed reports filed with the state this week.

The disparity could partly be due to Democrats having more than twice as many Senate nomination contests to be settled next week as Republicans. The difference between the two parties was smaller among contenders for the House, where there are roughly equal numbers of nomination contests. Democratic candidates for the Senate ended the period with about a collective $2 million advantage, while Democratic candidates for the House ended the reporting period with a cash advantage of about $400,000.

The10 legislative fundraisers with the biggest hauls this reporting period — including both cash and in-kind donations — were all Democratic candidates for the Senate facing a nomination contest.

Monday’s reporting deadline applied to candidates seeking an office that's on the ballot on Election Day in November, regardless of whether they face a nomination contest. It did not apply to candidate committees whose office is not on the ballot this year, such as Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia.

Senate candidate Lashrecse Aird, who has the backing of much of the state's Democratic establishment as she challenges self-described “pro-life” 13th District incumbent Sen. Joe Morrissey for the party's nomination, reported raising more than any other candidate: $985,211. More than half of that was in-kind donations ranging from field outreach to direct mail on her campaign's behalf.

Morrissey raised just under $100,000 in the same period — most of it from Dominion Energy — and ended with $7,473 cash on hand, compared with Aird's $100,821.

Aird and two other candidates hoping to oust Democratic Senate incumbents have been endorsed and financially backed by Clean Virginia, an advocacy group formed several years ago by a wealthy donor to counter the influence of Dominion at the state Capitol.

Clean Virginia gave more than $1.4 million during the reporting period, compared with Dominion's approximately $2.5 million, according to the reports.

Virginia's campaign finance law allows unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and special interest groups. It is a setup, Clean Virginia founder Michael Bills lamented in a piece published in The Atlantic on Tuesday.

“It’s not right,” Bills said. “I would be thrilled if there was a system that precluded someone like myself from doing that.”

Some of the other biggest fundraising totals have been logged in northern Virginia prosecutor races, where incumbents in Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties who won on criminal justice reform agendas four years ago are seeking reelection.

Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti has raised $437,775, most of which has come from a political action committee funded by liberal donor George Soros. Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano has raised $208,468, including a much smaller contribution from a Soros-linked PAC. Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj has received $163,838, mostly in donations from family members. She has not received any money from Soros.

The challengers have raised less. In Arlington, Josh Katcher has raised $157,674. In Fairfax, Ed Nuttall has raised $83,567. In Loudoun, Elizabeth Lancaster has not yet filed her report for the most recent reporting period. According to the state board of elections, she raised $4,735 through March. In a phone interview, she said she expects to file her updated numbers shortly and that they will not show any major infusions of cash.

In mid-July, candidates must file another report covering the period from June 9 to June 30.

Disclosure: Clean Virginia and Dominion Energy are VPM donors.

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