Following the Funds: Va. governor’s race already most expensive in history, Dominion asks for money back after political donation

Virginia Politics

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The 2021 race for the governor’s mansion is already the most expensive in Virginia history — and spending by both candidates and political groups is only expected to balloon through Election Day.

To date, the seven candidates vying for one of three statewide positions — governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general — have raised more than $100 million, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Virginia Department of Elections. More than 75% of that money has been raised by the two front-running candidates for governor, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Glenn Youngkin (R).

The list of donors is vast, with McAuliffe currently holding the financial lead with $44.5 million raised compared to Youngkin’s $42.3 million. Liberation Party candidate Princess Blanding has raised just over $30,000.

When the 2017 governor’s race was said and done, fundraising totals amounted to just over $66 million in a three-way race.

Virginia is one of only a handful of states where there are little to no limits on campaign contributions.

The majority of McAuliffe’s and Youngkin’s money has gone directly toward media advertising. Both have spent north of $20 million on commercials promoting their candidacy while also dragging their opponent’s name through the mud, according to analysis from the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.

Both have received more money from their party’s governor’s association than from any other group.

However, it’s who is funding their campaigns beyond that where the differences can be seen.

“It’s really a tale of two candidates here,” said Dr. Ben Melusky, a political science professor at Old Dominion University.

McAuliffe, who is known in political circles for his talent at fundraising, has received more than $5.7 million this campaign from organized labor groups. He’s also received sizable checks from stalwart Democratic donors like philanthropist George Soros, BET founder Robert Johnson and the first president of Facebook Sean Parker.

In Younkin’s case, one of his largest sources of campaign income is himself.

Youngkin is the former CEO of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm. He has given his campaign more than $17.7 million so far this campaign according to VPAP.

“It matches who he is. A political outsider, not much of a paper trail attached to him,” Melusky said.

He still also has several big names donating to him, including former President George W. Bush.

Youngkin and Republican candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general all have a greater percentage of donors from inside Virginia than the Democrats.

Youngkin’s campaign has reported 8% of his donors are from out-of-state, while McAuliffe’s campaign reports 29% of donors out of state, according to VPAP.

Melusky thinks those numbers are likely to change ahead of Election Day.

“There’s a lot of money floating around the rest of the country and it’s going to start pouring into Virginia,” Melusky said. “That number. just like the gas pump, is going to keep ticking up and up and up and up.”

Dominion Energy asks for a take back.

Recently, Dominion Energy, the state’s largest regulated utility, was thrust into the political boxing ring for a political donation they made to a recently established political action committee.

The publicly traded company, which has a long history of campaign contributions and often comes under heavy criticism, donated $200,000 to a political group called Accountability Virginia PAC, according to its own campaign finance disclosures.

Accountability Virginia PAC has in turn spent thousands of dollars on digital advertising pushing the narrative that Youngkin “refuses to tell us where he stands on guns and the Second Amendment,” unlike former President Donald Trump.

Axios news, which was first to report the story, uncovered the PAC has ties to prominent Democrats. Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told the outlet that the ads appear to be part of “an attempt to undermine Youngkin’s support in western rural areas, where gun ownership is sacred and the Republican has a big lead — as all Republicans do these days.”

The Youngkin campaign has slammed the move as one where Democrats have gotten their “special interest cronies to dump obscene amounts of money into shadowy organizations in order to protect their entrenched interests.”

The McAuliffe campaign didn’t return requests for comment.

Dominion Energy CEO Bob Blue sent an internal email to employees Monday stating that a request for previous donations to Accountability Virginia PAC be returned had been made.

Blue, a member of former Gov. Mark Warner’s (D-Va.) administration, wrote Dominion Energy failed to “vet the scope of their [Accountability Virginia PAC’s] intended activities.”

In the email, Blue boasted about the company’s “long history of transparency and bipartisanship in political giving,” however, Blue admitted that their recent efforts in those actions have been insufficient.

“Based on our own disclosures, two news stories highlighted activities of the Accountability Virginia PAC that we would not approve or knowingly support,” Blue wrote. “… We have asked that our contributions be returned.”

He also assured Dominion Energy employees that the company has learned from the recent incident and intends to implement the lessons going forward.

“We will not be giving to organizations of this nature in the future,” he said.

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