Will money decide the Virginia governor’s race

Posted at 10:50 AM, Nov 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-06 10:50:19-05

RICHMOND, Va. — Money talks in the race for governor of Virginia. Every four years big donors give money to candidates in the hopes that they win the office.

In Virginia, four of the last five candidates elected governor outspent their opponents.

In the current race for governor, Republican candidate Ed Gillespie has raised $14.8 million for his campaign, according to public campaign finance data released by Virginia Public Access Project. But he has been out raised by Democratic candidate Ralph Northam, who has raised $22.8 million.

Currently Northam has $5.7 million on hand to spend and Gillespie has $2.5 million.

“The Supreme Court has said there is money in speech,” said David Poole, the executive director for VPAP, an organization that provides public finance data for political candidates and their donors.

Virginia does not have a limit on campaign donations. VPAP has created a user-friendly online political search tool.

It’s designed to help voters find local political news, voting information and more. VPAP also discloses the people and organizations that donate to candidates so the average citizen can make an informed decision on whom to vote for.

“There is politics in everything,” said Poole.

The VPAP website presents the facts, and it updates frequently during campaign season. It’s helpful for voters to see who donated to what.

The VPAP financial report shows that both candidates paid heavily for TV and radio advertisements.

To date, Northam has spent $14.5 million in media buys for TV and radio ads, and Gillespie has spent $12.2 million.

Northam has invested $9 million alone in TV and radio ads in the Washington media market, close to 40 percent of his overall fundraising. In the same market Gillespie has spent $7 million on those ads.

In the Hampton Roads market both candidates have spent $2.3 million, while in the Roanoke media market Gillespie outspent Northam $955,000 to $906,000.

In the state capital media market in Richmond, Northam invested $2.3 million in media buys compared to Gillespie’s $1.7 million.

The same VPAP report showed Northam’s campaign received $9.6 million from outside groups, 42 percent of overall donations.

The PAC of the Democratic Governors Association is Northam’s top donor with $3 million.

Charlottesville investor Michael Bills is Northam’s top individual donor with $566,000.

Gillespie’s campaign received $8 million from outside groups, 54 percent of overall donations.

Homebuilding magnate Dwight Schar is Gillespie’s top independent donor with $225,000. The PAC A Stronger Virginia is Gillespie’s top donor overall with $4 million. He also received $100,000 from former President George W. Bush.

"Unlike most states, we don't ban outside money,” Ravi Perry, Associate Professor of Political Science at Virginia Commonwealth University, said. Not banning outside money makes the Virginia gubernatorial campaign the race to watch this year.

“Outside money gives the state a chance to make the state elections a nationwide importance,” said Perry. It is very common for candidates to look for donors outside their states.

“You have to play the game in order to win in it,” said Perry. The idea of money and politics goes hand in hand since it costs time, energy, and getting the word out to get voters to see a political candidate. Politics is always about who gets what.”

"It costs money to do things and go places. Money can help candidates to get their name out to voters. Setting a cap in how much money is put into elections,” said Perry.

Ad buys cost money to the tune of millions and millions of dollars.

It’s very expensive to run for office.

Interest groups can also donate an unlimited amount of money to candidates, and all they have to do is report it.

"In the electoral outcome, the candidate that raises more money usually wins. Fundraising is important too. In 2013, Terry McAuliffe raised more than Ken Cuccinelli. Donors can also affect the policy positions of the candidates. They use television, radio, and even mailers to get themselves out there," Geoffrey Skelley, the media relations coordinator for the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said.

But Paul Goldman, an attorney and political analyst, has doubts that money will be the deciding factor in the race between Northam and Gillespie.

“I don’t think money is going to decide the race for governor," he said. “Previous elections are unique since candidates can get so much free coverage, but you can’t use the presidential model to run the campaign.”

To win an election, “you have to appeal to the people who are non-partisan, but juice up the interest of people who are partisan,” said Goldman.

By Gary Haskins and Jessica Samuels (Special to

EDITOR’S NOTE: has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported this story.