Virginia’s green wave: How money played into the 2019 election

By Sean Galvin

December 26, 2019

Democrats taking the General Assembly wasn’t the only history-making element of they year.

Money, for better or for worse, plays a significant role in politics, and this year’s General Assembly elections set spending records in Virginia. We decided to take a closer look at how money influenced this year’s election, and some of the most notable campaign spending developments in the Commonwealth.

Million-dollar candidates

This year’s historic election saw an increased amount of national interest in the state, as Republicans and Democrats fought for control of the General Assembly. And with that attention came money— lots of it. Candidates, particularly those in swing districts, were able to bring in more contributions than ever before with several candidates breaking fundraising records.

Democrats raised more money than Republicans overall for a total of over $38 million. Republicans, meanwhile, brought in over $28 million.

A total of 16 Senate candidates raised more than a million dollars, half of which were Democrat and half were Republican. Democrat Debra Rodman brought in the most money, with a total of over $3.1 million.

In the House, 21 candidates collected over a million dollars. Of that group, 14 were Democrats and the rest were Republicans.

Pro and anti gun safety spending

Gun safety was a major issue this election, following the tragic May 31 mass shooting in Virginia Beach. Groups for and against gun safety laws contributed large sums of money to campaigns, as the fate of the state’s gun safety policies lay in the hands of the General Assembly.

Several Democrats made gun safety a central part of their campaign, especially  after Republicans abruptly shut down a special session called by Gov. Ralph Northam in July following the Virginia Beach shooting. Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun safety group founded by Michael Bloomberg, gave $2.5 million to Democratic candidates who ran on a gun safety platform. As a result, the group said it was the largest outside donor in the state’s election. 

The NRA, concerned they would lose their ability to oppose gun safety measures in the state where their headquarters are located, also invested in the state election. The pro-gun group spent $350,269 on various candidates who opposed gun safety measures, with $200,000 of that donated to House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert’s ‘Majority Leader PAC.”

Dominion Energy

This year many Democrats and a few Republicans refused to take contributions from Dominion Energy. As the state’s primary energy provider, Dominion has faced increased criticism for its outsized influence in Richmond, overcharging customers and slow-walking the adoption of clean energy technology.

Refusing Dominion’s money was made easier by hedge fund manager Michael Bills, who gave large amounts of money to candidates who rejected Dominion’s cash. Bills contributed $1.7 million to various campaigns, making him the largest campaign donor in the state.  

Lax spending restrictions

Virginia has some of the loosest spending regulations in the country.The state has practically no oversight to ensure candidates don’t use their campaign funds for their own personal use. It is also one of only eleven states to allow individuals to make unlimited contributions to campaigns. 

There is some hope that Democrats will make changes when they take over the General Assembly in January. The idea of passing a law banning the personal use of campaign funds has gotten some bipartisan support in the past, but has never received gotten enough support to get signed into law.

CATEGORIES: Uncategorized


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