The blackface scandal that engulfed Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration in February also crippled fundraising by his political arm, which raised just $2,500 since the racist yearbook photo surfaced, newly filed financial disclosures show.
A similar fate befell the state’s other top Democratic elected officials, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, who both faced scandals of their own in February. Fairfax didn’t raise any money after facing accusations of sexual assault by two women. Herring, who admitted to wearing blackface while in college, raised just over $17,000.
Weak fundraising from the state’s top Democrats comes as the party vies for control of the General Assembly, where Republicans hold a two-seat edge in both the House and Senate chambers. All 140 seats are up for election .
While elected officials are not allowed to fundraise during the General Assembly, which adjourned Feb. 24, past governors have managed to rake in hundreds of thousands after adjournment at similar points in their administrations, according to an analysis by the Virginia Public Access Project. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe raised more than half a million dollars after the 2015 legislative session, while former Gov. Bob McDonnell raised more than $420,000 after the 2011 session.
The $2,500 Northam raised since the end of the legislative session on Feb. 24 came from just three individual donors. Over the filing period, which covers Jan. 1 through March 31, Northam raised just over $200,000. The money is funneled through his political action committee, “The Way Forward.”
Mark Bergman, who leads Northam’s PAC, said the organization halted “active fundraising” while the governor focused on rehabilitating himself through his executive duties, but added fundraising “has begun to pick up already.”
“The governor is committed to securing a majority in both the House and the Senate,” Bergman said. “We are committed to raising the necessary funding.”
Bergman wouldn’t disclose any scheduled fundraising events. On Sunday, Northam canceled an appearance at a fundraiser for Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax, after protestors planned to hold a rally.
The PAC’s filing also sheds light on Northam’s damage-control operation following the unearthing of the yearbook photo. Bergman confirmed the PAC spent $31,000 on a crisis communications firm, Washington-based IR+Media, which it hired on a two-week contract.
Despite Northam’s figures, the fundraising cycle proved fruitful for Democrats: Both the House and Senate Democratic caucuses outraised their Republican counterparts.
The House Democratic Caucus raised $435,000 over Republicans’ $340,000, raised through three different PACs run by Speaker Kirk Cox. In the Senate, Democrats raised $308,000 over Republican’s $287,000. The Democratic Party of Virginia reported $272,000 over the Republican Party of Virginia’s $110,000.
“Taking these numbers, in combination with the Wason Center poll showing the executive branch isn’t very popular right now, shows people still have enthusiasm about electing Democrats in Virginia,” said Kathryn Gilley, a caucus spokeswoman. “And they are still rallying to support Democrats this year.”
Parker Slaybaugh, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, said House Democrats are “playing catch up” after Cox raised over $600,000 in the last quarter of 2018.
“We know that out of state donors and wealthy progressives will spend almost anything to buy a majority in the House,” Slaybaugh said.
Fundraising in key primaries
In a closely watched state Senate primary in the Richmond suburbs, Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, transferred $87,736 from her delegate account to her new Senate account, also pulling in $25,000 from Charlottesville investor Michael Bills and $10,000 from his wife, Sonjia Smith. The total raised was $178,918. Rodman ended the reporting period with a balance of $177,832 in her race in Senate District 12.
Bills’ donation alone nearly topped all money raised during the reporting period by Veena Lothe, an immigration lawyer, who reported raising $27,155. She had an ending balance of $33,264.
The winner will face Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, who raised $49,605 and ended the reporting period with $162,279.
In Senate District 10, which includes Powhatan County and parts of Richmond and Chesterfield County, Democrat Ghazala Hashmi raised $56,579 and ended with $80,134, edging the $52,888 raised by Democrat Eileen Bedell, whose ending balance was $48,978. Zachary Brown, a student at the University of Richmond, reported raising $20,199 — much of it from donors with the last name “Brown.”
The winner will face Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, who raised $44,629 in the three-month period and had an ending balance of $216,084.
In the 68th House District, which includes parts of Richmond and Chesterfield and Henrico counties, Garrison Coward outraised primary challenger Lori Losi $62,800 to $32,100.
Coward, whose campaign balance is $27,600, is a former aide to U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, and has racked up endorsements from key Republican leaders. Losi is a certified public accountant and has a balance of $18,700.