Democrats, and a few Republicans, raise big money from small donations

Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment cheer Del. Danica Roem, D-Manassas, as she enters the Capitol on the first day of the 2019 General Assembly session. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

In the most recent election cycle, Democrats have been raking in donations from people giving $100 or less, according to a visualization by the Virginia Public Access Project.

Del. Danica Roem, D-Manassas, reported $68,875 in small donations, the most of any General Assembly candidate. (VPAP’s analysis includes all candidates running in 2019 who had raised at least $5,000 through March 31.) That was about 25 percent of Roem’s total fundraising.

“This is a huge part of how I can run my campaign without taking corporate money,” she tweeted. 

Most of the candidates collecting tens of thousands of dollars in small donations were Democrats, but some Republicans did the same: John Avoli, a Republican running in a primary for the 20th House District near Staunton, had $20,750 worth of small donations; Tim Hugo in Fairfax had $19,319 in small donations and Hanover’s Chris Peace had $16,999 worth of small donations.

Following Roem, Democrat Shelly Simonds (who lost to Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, when the state had to pick a winner by drawing a name out of a bowl) raised $33,935 in small donations and Lee Carter, D- Manassas, raised $32,320 through small donations.

On the Senate side, Fairfax Democratic incumbent Scott Surovell led the small donations count with $46,808, making up 10 percent of his total fundraising.

Small donors have dominated campaign finance reports of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, a strategy used by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary against Hillary Clinton. Beto O’Rourke, in his failed U.S. Senate bid against Ted Cruz, raised millions last year, much of it in small individual donations.

It’s a strategy that Democrats embrace as they forego other donation sources (like political action committees and big businesses) and to make a more “friendly narrative” for the campaign trail, reports the Center for Public Integrity.