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Youngkin says big fundraising haul will boost state races

Posted at 11:17 AM, Apr 19, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Donations from business executives, attorneys and corporate interests ranging from real estate to finance helped power Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin's main fundraising arm to a record-breaking nearly $2.7 million haul in the year's first quarter, campaign finance records filed this week show.

Despite being prohibited from seeking donations for much of the January 1-March 31 period because of the legislative session, Youngkin's Spirit of Virginia political action committee surpassed its own prior quarterly record and those of previous governors. The receipts mark a continuation of strong fundraising by Youngkin and will support what his PAC said would be "an unprecedented, data-driven coordinated campaign in 2023 to hold the House and take the Senate."

"He will continue to raise resources here at home and nationwide to support the 2023 legislative elections; this is just the start," Spirit of Virginia Chairman Dave Rexrode said in a statement issued earlier this month when the PAC first shared its total receipts.

All 140 General Assembly seats will be on the ballot this year in an election cycle being shaken up by a redistricting process that overhauled Virginia's electoral maps. The new district lines paired many incumbents together, and the maps are being seen as the primary driver behind a wave of General Assembly retirements and challenges against current officeholders.

The stakes in November will be high for Youngkin, who has seen many of his legislative ambitions stymied by Senate Democrats since taking office in January 2022. If Republicans gained full control of the General Assembly, Youngkin would have far greater latitude to advance his priorities during the final two years of his term.

Youngkin, a political newcomer who has quickly become a closely watched player in the national Republican Party and has not publicly ruled out a 2024 bid for president, announced his first-quarter haul April 5. A fuller accounting, including expenditures, became available after a Monday filing deadline. The deadline also applied to candidates in state and local races, offering an early snapshot of legislative matchups.

According to an accounting by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in politics, Democratic Senate candidates have nearly a $5.5 million cash-on-hand advantage over Republicans, although that figure doesn't account for leadership PACs.

Democratic House candidates also have a cash-on-hand advantage over Republicans, according to VPAP, albeit a smaller one: about $960,000.

The latest filings also offer insight on the giving of Clean Virginia, the big-money advocacy group formed by investor and Democratic donor Michael Bills to counter the influence of lobbying powerhouse Dominion Energy.

The reports show the group gave a hefty six figures to three Democratic candidates who are challenging current state senators.

Northern Virginia candidates Heidi Drauschak and Stella Pekarsky each received $100,000 and outraised their opponents, Sens. Dave Marsden and George Barker, though Marsden and Barker ended the period with more cash on hand. Legislators and statewide officials are prohibited from fundraising during General Assembly sessions; challengers are not.

The group gave $150,000 to a Lashrecse Aird, a former member of the House of Delegates who is aiming to defeat Sen. Joe Morrissey in the June primary. Aird both outraised Morrissey and ended the quarter with more cash on hand.

In a closely watched Hampton Roads member-on-member Democratic primary, Sen. Louise Lucas outraised Sen. Lionell Spruill, but Spruill ended with more cash on hand.

In the year's second member-on-member nomination contest, Republican Del. Wren Williams far outraised Del. Marie March.

Youngkin raised close to $2.6 million in cash contributions over the quarter, with an additional $92,656 in in-kind donations for flight-related services, the records show.

A wealthy former private equity executive, Youngkin self-funded a healthy portion of his winning 2021 campaign but has also consistently set new fundraising records. According to a VPAP analysis, he's raised over $7.5 million in big donations of $10,000 or more in his first 15 months in office. That's greater than his three predecessors raised over the same period combined, after accounting for inflation.

Liam Watson, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said Youngkin's first-quarter haul wasn't surprising because he's "spent his term flitting from state to state" courting donors.

"If Youngkin spent half as much energy focusing on the Commonwealth's well-being as he spends focusing on his own, we'd all be better off," Watson said.

While Youngkin did travel extensively during last year's midterms for meetings and to boost GOP candidates, most of his donors in the most recent quarter were from in state, according to an AP review of the records. They include current and retired executives of companies around Virginia, and firms in industries ranging from real estate to automobiles, casinos and asset management.

The PAC spent about $1.4 million over the quarter on expenses such as travel, consultants, event productions and legal services. It ended the quarter with nearly $2.7 million cash on hand.

The giving and spending laid out in this week's PAC and candidate reports is only the beginning of the flow of what will likely be tens of millions more in a state that allows unlimited campaign donations.

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