Scandals lead to fundraising woes for top Virginia Democrats
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A series of scandals surrounding Virginia's top Democrats has made it difficult for them to raise money in a key election year.
Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring all posted anemic campaign finance reports Monday that are far below what their predecessors have raised at similar points in past election cycles.
The trio was set to help use their name recognition and fundraising prowess to help Democrats flip control of the General Assembly later this year before several scandals erupted. Now it's unclear what kind of financial help they can bring.
"When campaigns come looking for cash this fall, there just won't be any," said John March, spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia.
Northam first admitted, then denied that he'd appeared in a racist photo that surfaced in his medical school yearbook. He did say he wore blackface in the 1980s while dressed as Michael Jackson at a dance competition. Herring later admitted to wearing blackface in college, just days after calling for Northam to resign and after rumors of his own action began swirling in the capital. Two women came forward with allegations that Fairfax sexually assaulted them several years ago, allegations he denies. All three politicians have resisted calls to resign.
All 140 legislative seats are up for grabs this year, when there are only three other states having legislative elections. Virginia is the only one where Democrats have a reasonable chance of flipping control of the legislature, and the contests will be closely watched as possible bellwethers for the 2020 election cycle.
Lawmakers were not allowed to raise any money during this year's legislative session, but governors typically raise big bucks after the session ends. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe raised more than $530,000 in 2015 after the session ended, and former Gov. Bob McDonnell raised $428,000, according to an analysis by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonprofit money-in-politics tracker.
Northam, by contrast, raised just $2,500 for his political action committee after the session ended this year.
Northam reported spending $341,000 last quarter, including $25,000 at a law firm and $15,000 for a crisis communications firm a week after his scandal broke. He reported having about $1.2 million in the bank at the end of March.
Fairfax did not raise any money after the session ended. Herring, who said last year he plans to run for governor in 2021, raised about $17,000 — far below the $64,000 he raised four years ago when the session finished.
Northam has appeared to recover, for the most part, from his near-fatal political fall. He's back to making regular appearances, and Democrats and other allies who called on him to resign have signaled a willingness to work with him again. But he recently had to cancel an appearance at a fundraiser for Sen. Dave Marsden after protesters objected to the governor being there. He also canceled plans to be a commencement speaker at his alma mater, Virginia Military Institute, and won't participate in any other graduation ceremonies amid the persisting scandal, news outlets reported. Northam's spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel said Monday that he decided weeks ago to skip ceremonies over concern he would divert focus from the graduates.
While a governor's PACs have traditionally been the main source of a party's campaign cash during off-year legislative elections, Virginia's lax campaign finance rules make it easy for other groups to fill the void. Virginia has no limits on contribution amounts, and there are several Democratic groups actively raising money.
"We will have the resources we need to finish the work we started in 2017 and flip the General Assembly blue," said Jake Rubenstein, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia.