After Virginia gubernatorial candidates filed their campaign finance updates yesterday, all eyes turned to Democratic Party candidate Tom Perriello. The progressive populist, who decries the role of big money in politics, was himself the largest beneficiary of big money of the six announced candidates.
The Perriello campaign pocketed $385,000 from hedge fund billionaire George Soros and two sons, as well as $230,000 from Avaaz, a global activist organization that Perriello co-founded.
Perhaps of greater interest is the large stash raised from Charlottesville, Perriello’s hometown. Never in all my years as an observer of Virginia politics have I seen such large contributions bubble forth from the People’s Republic. Whether this gusher of campaign contributions portends an inflection point in Virginia politics, I don’t know. But it is remarkable.
Here is a list of Perriello’s top donors, with details added from a couple of hour’s worth of Googling:
Sonjia Smith — $500,000. A University of Virginia graduate and Charlottesville resident, Smith is married to hedge fund manager Michael D. Bills, founder of Bluestem Asset Management. In a Roanoke Times column explaining why she supports Perriello, she described herself as a “single-issue voter” on the issue of women’s reproductive rights. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, she had donated $968,000 to Democratic candidates in Virginia through 2016 before stroking the big check to Perriello.
George Soros — $250,000. New Yorker, hedge fund manager, chairman of the Open Society Foundations, and prolific funder of progressive causes.
Avaaz –$230,000. Global, not-for-profit activist group.
Alexander Soros — $125,000. Alexander Soros, son of multibillionaire George Soros, is a New York philanthropist who promotes social justice and human rights causes.
Courtney C. Smith — $75,000. ???
Stephen Silberstein — $50,000. Northern Virginia semiconductor executive.
Christopher Weitz — $25,000. There is a Christopher Weitz who is a New York-born film producer and screen writer. I’m not certain he is one and the same as the donor to Perriello’s campaign.
John Grisham — $25,000. Best-selling author and supporter of progressive causes who lives in the Charlottesville area.
Margaret Gupta — $25,000. Gupta is married to Shashikant Gupta, CEO of Apex CoVantage, a Herndon technology firm. Co-founder of the Gupta Family Foundation, she says that Apex should be “an agent of positive social change.”
Timothy Chapman — $25,000. Chapman heads Reston-based Chapman Development LLC, a developer of affordable housing projects.
Dario O Marquez — $20,000. A former member of the Secret Service, Marquez is co-founder of MNM Inc., an Ashburn-based private security contractor.
Lilly Bechtel — $10,000. Charlottesville yoga instructor, writer and musician.
Kay Leigh Ferguson — $10,000. Ferguson is director of Charlottesville’s Madwoman Project, which produces avant garde theater performances.
Roberta B. Williamson — $10,000. Charlottesville resident. Major donor to Democratic Party candidates.
Stanislav Reisky de Dubnic — $10,000. Reisky de Dubnic is a principal in Charlottesville-based Apex Clean Energy.
Peter Devine — $10,000. ???
David J. Matthews — $10,000. Famed Charlottesville musician.
Jonathan T. Allan Soros — $10,000. Son of George Soros, CEO of New York-based JS Capital Management, and prominent donor to progressive causes.
Laura DeBonis — $10,000. ???
The picture that emerges here is a candidate whose financial support comes overwhelmingly from progressive communities in New York, Northern Virginia and above all Charlottesville. Among big-check donors, he appears to have zero support outside those areas. From his advocacy of a $15 minimum wage and free community college to his support of renewable energy and attacks on electric utilities, he is all on board with the green/social justice agenda. Virginia has never seen a serious statewide candidate like this before.
As Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Jeff Schapiro observes, “Perriello’s candidacy, much like McAuliffe’s losing bid in 2009, is top-down. It is a lot of drama, magnified by millennial-specific social media and cable news breathlessness, intended to capture the votes of Virginians not necessarily active in Democratic politics but absolutely agitated by Donald Trump.”
Hypocrisy alert. Perriello has staked out a position as a pro-green, anti-Dominion candidate opposed to interstate pipelines transporting fracked gas through Virginia. Yet he has accepted $250,000 from George Soros, whose Soros Fund Management in 2016 had holdings in 11 oil and gas companies. Should he return Soros’ money? Should he insist that Soros divest himself of his oil and gas assets? Are his support of renewables and attacks on power companies sincere or opportunistic?