Out-of-State Money Floods to Incumbent Democrats in Virginia’s Competitive Congressional Races

by James C. Sherlock

I have the utmost respect for political candidates as a class.

They are people who put themselves in the arena while most are spectators.

The American people I think agree.

But by huge margins we decry the amount of money in political campaigns.

  • We deplore the fact that the money required discourages many persons from running who cannot self-fund and refuse to dial for dollars;
  • Most consider vast donations of money to be inevitably corrupting. At a minimum, access by big donors is paid for and assured;
  • Finally, voters would prefer to hear the messages of candidates, directly. Not just the loudest ads amplified by money.

I have shared those views all of my life.

Virginia’s nearly unique problem is unlimited funding, including unlimited out-of-state funding. Most other states have restrictions on both.

Why not Virginia?

  • Incumbent politicians of both parties in Virginia’s General Assembly, who would need to vote for such restrictions, benefit disproportionally from the current lack of them;
  • Campaign cash is also a windfall for local and regional media, who are struggling, and thus disinclined to advocate for change.

The result this year: disproportionate incumbent campaign money, as always, is working to tip the scales. Out-of-state money is attempting to stand on them in the races of the state’s two most vulnerable Democrats.

Too expensive for many people to participate. My father was politically engaged all of his life.

In 1952, he worked hard in our Northern Virginia district for a Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives. That candidate lost and died almost immediately after the election.

It turned out he had borrowed against his life insurance to help fund his campaign, and his family was left in need. His campaign staff and friends raised money for them. I have never forgotten it.

Campaigning costs too much today because there is too much money chasing too few candidates. Classic inflation.

Here is a complete spreadsheet of donations to all eleven races as of September 30.  You will see that the money chases incumbents, and catches them.

CD 10. In one interesting story, retired Navy Captain Hung Cao is challenging Democratic incumbent Jennifer Wexton in Congressional District 10, centered in Loudoun and Prince William counties.

Unsurprisingly, she has out-raised him by more than a million dollars overall.

But if you go to VPAP’s Congressional donations by state page, you will see that Cao has raised nearly as much out-of-state money as Wexton. He even out-raised her in California, with almost 1,200 donations that averaged only $130 each. Asian-American voters like him, his life story and his message.

Wexton’s donations from the sunshine state averaged $945 each.

Sabato still considers Wexton safe. Probably.

Competitive House races. As rated by Larry Sabato’s Center for Politics assessment (updated today), Virginia has two competitive elections for the House of Representatives. Those are:

  • Luria (D)/Kiggins (R) in Congressional District 2 (rated tossup); and
  • Spanberger (D)/Vega(R) in Congressional District 7 (rated leans D).

Total money raised by Luria and Spanberger exceeded that raised by their opponents by a ratios of 3.4:1 in each race. A statistical oddity, but not uncommon incumbent advantages.

In those races, out-of-state donations favored the two Democratic incumbents by nearly 7-to-1, an $11.7 million advantage. Luria raised 61% of her money out of state; Spanberger 55%.

Cash balances on September 30 in the CD2 race: Luria $3,020,971; Kiggans $433,578

Bottom line. If you lived here in the 2nd and watched local TV, you would think Elaine Luria had bought the stations, not just commercial time.

I predict Jen Kiggans will win down here against that tide. If she does so, she will demonstrate that a huge money advantage is not always everything.

But it is always a lot.