The advocacy group Clean Virginia is endorsing Democrat Jennifer Carroll Foy for governor, support that comes with an eye-popping $500,000 PAC donation to the former state delegate’s campaign.
Founded and financed by wealthy Charlottesville investor Michael Bills, Clean Virginia had already given $100,000 to both Carroll Foy and Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, signaling initial approval of both candidates without going all in behind one challenger to former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the early frontrunner to win the nomination.
Coming just before the first televised Democratic debate, the group’s formal endorsement of Carroll Foy and accompanying cash infusion could give her a significant lift in the five-person field.
Billing itself as an anti-corruption group, Clean Virginia was formed in 2018 to combat the influence of Dominion Energy, the state-regulated utility many progressives see as exerting undue control over the General Assembly and its energy policy decisions. Bills, a former Goldman Sachs executive who has become one of the top individual donors to Virginia Democrats, has said his goal was to use his own money to counter Dominion’s political donations.
Clean Virginia also has its fair share of detractors, who contend its strategy of trying to reshape Democratic politics by cutting checks to Dominion opponents is simply another form of big-money influence. The $500,000 donation is about 178 times larger than the $2,800 contribution cap Carroll Foy has called for as part of her campaign finance reform plan, a limit she says would prevent policymakers from being “purchased by the highest bidders.”
In a news release, Clean Virginia executive director Brennan Gilmore touted Carroll Foy’s “ability to build a truly people-powered campaign.”
“Her sweeping anti-corruption and climate plans and track record — including never taking a dime from Dominion Energy — align with Clean Virginia’s goals and mission,” Gilmore said. “We believe she is the best candidate in this critical race to determine the Commonwealth’s future and are ready to fight hard for her to be our next governor.”
McAuliffe, a prolific fundraiser and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, had a huge money advantage heading into 2021. He reported having $5.5 million on hand, more than all other Democratic and Republican candidates combined. Carroll Foy reported almost $1.3 million on hand, well behind McAuliffe but ahead of the rest of the Democratic field. The next round of fundraising reports is due April 15.
When he announced his campaign for a second term as governor last year, McAuliffe said he too would no longer accept campaign donations from Dominion. He accepted $75,000 from Dominion in his successful 2013 campaign, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, and his Common Good VA PAC received $95,000 from the utility during his first term.
“While politicians of the past have cozied up to corporate special interests, I have committed to lead the Commonwealth forward, not back,” Carroll Foy, who stepped down from her seat in the House of Delegates last year partly so she could continue fundraising during the 2021 legislative session, said in Clean Virginia’s release.
Carroll Foy, McAuliffe and McClellan will take the stage Tuesday night for the first of four debates sanctioned by the Democratic Party of Virginia, along with Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas.
Carter, a self-described socialist pitching himself as the candidate most willing to take on corporate power, is also a strong Dominion critic who has received donations from Clean Virginia and Bills in the past.
In a dramatic rebuke of Fairfax early last year, Bills pulled Clean Virginia’s sponsorship of the DPVA’s annual fundraising gala in protest of the party’s decision to let the lieutenant governor attend in light of the unresolved sexual assault allegations two women leveled against him in 2019. Fairfax has adamantly denied the accusations, both dealing with encounters that occurred in the early 2000s that were never investigated by law enforcement.
Democrats will pick their gubernatorial nominee in a June 8 primary.