Four takeaways from the last campaign finance reports of Virginia’s 2023 elections

By: - October 31, 2023 10:14 pm

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Election Day is one week away in Virginia, where all 140 General Assembly seats are on the ballot in a high-stakes year that will determine whether Republicans seize full control of state government, Democrats resurge to hold onto the Senate and take back the House or divided power continues for another two years. 

Virginia’s off-year legislative races have long attracted national attention because poll watchers view them as a bellwether of how the electorate may lean in congressional and presidential contests. This year has an added layer of interest: Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has long flirted with the idea of a presidential run, and the outcome of the election will make it clear how viable his prospects are. 

With races tight in roughly a dozen disputed districts, campaigning has turned unusually nasty in a state where politicians tend to pride themselves on their gentility. The latest campaign finance reports filed by candidates ahead of Nov. 7 show the parade of attack ads is being fueled by record amounts of cash — a situation made possible by Virginia’s lax laws, which put few limits on election fundraising or spending.

Here’s four takeaways from the Oct. 30 reports, as published by the Virginia Public Access Project.  

Democrats outraised Republicans in the final election stretch, especially in the House, but both parties are throwing around enormous amounts of cash 

The latest figures from VPAP, which cover funds raised between Oct. 1 and Oct. 26, show Democrats outraising Republicans, particularly in the House, with thinner margins between the parties’ hauls in the Senate.  

Altogether, VPAP data on the Senate races shows Democrats took in $12.7 million to the GOP’s $10.6 million. For House campaigns, Democrats netted $14.2 million and Republicans $8.4 million. 

While both chambers are in play this year, the Senate is seen as more crucial to both parties because it is currently the last bastion of Democratic control in state government. If Republicans can flip it, they will achieve the coveted trifecta of power; if Democrats can keep it, they can continue to block what they consider the most objectionable Republican proposals.

Most of the October fundraising is concentrated where you’d expect: in the big swing races. According to VPAP numbers, in the Loudoun- and Fauquier-based Senate District 31, Democrat Russet Perry took in almost $2.7 million, while Republican Juan Pablo Segura got $2.1 million. In Senate District 16 in the Richmond suburbs, Democratic Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg raised $2.2 million to Republican Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant’s $1.9 million. 

In the House races, VPAP shows Democrats netted the seven highest fundraising amounts of the period, led by former Del. Josh Cole in the Fredericksburg-area House District 65 ($2 million), Josh Thomas in Prince William County’s House District 21 ($1.8 million) and Michael Feggans in the Virginia Beach-based House District 97 ($1.4 million). 

Also notable: Money for Democratic House candidate Susanna Gibson has majorly slowed since the news that she performed sex acts online broke in early September. According to VPAP reports, Gibson only took in $211,000 between Oct. 1 and Oct. 26. She previously raised nearly $489,000 in September. However, in the latest period she still outraised her Republican opponent, David Owen, who took in nearly $190,000 in October. 

The amounts of money that have flowed into this year’s elections are huge

This year’s races could prove to be Virginia’s most expensive yet

Millions funneled into Virginia primaries reignite calls for campaign finance reform

Between Oct. 1 and Oct. 26, VPAP data shows General Assembly candidates raised nearly $46 million — $23.4 million for Senate races and $22.6 million for House races. That’s on top of the summer and early fall fundraising hauls and the more than $28 million spent on the June Senate primaries and $8.5 million spent on the House primaries

Furthermore, the money isn’t slowing. On Monday alone, the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus gave $384,000 to Del. Clint Jenkins, who is fighting against Republican Del. Emily Brewer to represent the Hampton Roads- and Southside-based Senate District 17. On the same day, Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia PAC gave $675,000 to a handful of Republican candidates. 

Two of the biggest donors are Youngkin’s PAC and Clean Virginia 

On the right, VPAP shows that Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia PAC is one of the biggest spenders of the period, routing $690,000 to former Poquoson and York County Sheriff Danny Diggs, $600,000 to Del. Tara Durant, $529,000 to Dunnavant, $300,000 to Segura, $265,000 to Del. Kim Taylor and $250,000 to former Prince William County Supervisor John Stirrup, among others. 

Clean Virginia, the Charlottesville-based group founded by millionaire Michael Bills to counter Dominion Energy’s influence in the General Assembly, gave $200,000 each to Democrats Perry, VanValkenburg, Feggans, Thomas and Travis Nembhard, who is vying for Northern Virginia’s House District 22. The organization also doled out smaller donations to numerous other candidates, most of whom were Democrats. 

Clean Virginia and Dominion were the two biggest spenders in this year’s primary elections, collectively contributing over $12 million to campaigns. Dominion’s PAC has continued to make large donations over the past month, mostly in the $10,000 to $75,000 range. 

Richmond’s casino referendum is also drawing big money 

According to VPAP data, Urban One and Churchill Downs have raised over $9 million to convince Richmond voters they want the Richmond Grand Resort and Casino after a 2021 referendum failed to get enough support for the proposal. If they can squeak out a win this cycle, Virginia will be on track to get its fifth casino after the General Assembly in 2020 passed a law allowing five cities to hold referenda on the issue.

The companies’ Richmond Wins, Vote Yes campaign took in almost $1.2 million this October, much of it in in-kind expenditures by Urban One and Churchill Downs that added to an initial investment of more than $8 million. Construction and trades groups also raised nearly $200,000 in support of the proposal.

Anti-casino efforts, including the No Means No Casino campaign and the Richmond Anti-Corruption League, raised roughly $220,000 in opposition. 


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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.