Hey, Politicians, Give Unspent Campaign Funds to Charity

by James C. Sherlock

I am a strong believer in the generosity of most Americans. I offer in this essay a way for Virginia elected officials to donate campaign money left over from their last elections to charities that provide healthcare services to Virginia’s poor. It is a simple concept that can do a lot of good.

The pot of money. Virginia’s next state election campaigns are 15 months away. The victors of the 2019 and 2017 general elections were sitting on nearly $8 million in cash in their campaign coffers as of Dec. 31, 2019. The totals:

  • $2,943,000 in the Senate,
  • $4,119,000 in the House and
  • $853,000 among the Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General.

Two million, six-hundred thousand voters cast ballots in the 2018 general election that included constitutional officers as well as House of Delegates candidates. Campaign contribution totals do not include independent expenditures such as the $151,338 spent in 2019 in my own Senate District 8.

Two million four hundred thousand voters cast ballots in the 2019 general election for the House and Senate. Campaign contributions included:

  • 2017 Governor’s race: $66 million (up from $60 million in 2013), 66% in donations over $25,000;
  • 2017 Lt. Governor’s race: $9.2 million (up from $2.5 million); 55 donations between $10,000 and $100,000.
  • 2017 Attorney General race: $20 million (up from $5 million);
  • 2019: 100 House races $68 million (up from $43 million two years earlier); and
  • 2019: 40 Senate races $55 million (up from $37 million four years earlier).

In the 2019 election cycle, all General Assembly races together took in over $218 million in donations – nearly $100 per ballot cast not including independent expenditures.

All together the campaign war chests of the 2020 General Assembly members at the beginning of this year held 4% of what was collected for their last campaigns.

Indeed serious opposition in those last elections was relatively scarce:

  • Thirty of the 100 House victors were unopposed. Only 33 House districts were competitive defined as within 10% margins.
  • Eleven of the 40 Senate victors were unopposed. Only 7 of 40 Senate districts were competitive.

Charitable giving.

It would be wonderful if the winners, especially those in safe seats, give thanks and give back. Each is now an incumbent with the massive advantages, including fund raising, of incumbency. None holds money that will not be replaced and greatly increased during his or her next campaign. I also encourage our political parties and party-focused Virginia PACs and the losers in each election to contribute leftover 2019 campaign funds.

I further suggest that the giving be focused on improving public health in Virginia’s poorest localities. These communities include both Democratic and Republican constituencies in rough balance.

I recommend two specific charities as the recipients of these donations:

  1. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. An $11 billion public charity focused on improving public health.  The General Assembly leadership or the Governor’s office can set up an account that awards RWJF grants to Virginia applicants only. RWJF is already in the grant business and will manage the account. RWJF ranks annually 133 localities in Virginia for public health status  This account might wish to focus giving on the bottom 20.
  2. Remote Area Medical. A public charity that provides free quality healthcare to those in need.  Operates mobile clinics which deliver health care to those who are impoverished, isolated, and underserved.   RAM has a great record of service in Virginia.  Set up a Virginia Elected Officials account. Note that the $100,000 platinum level advertises the platinum sponsors at four events each.

I am familiar with the work of those two charities and know that they do what they say they do and do it well. Neither has a political agenda.

I ask the Governor and the leadership of both parties in the General Assembly to take up this cause and coordinate the giving. It would be a nice story in a tough time  I hope we can establish this as a tradition.

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8 responses to “Hey, Politicians, Give Unspent Campaign Funds to Charity”

  1. sherlockj Avatar

    The three bullets starting: “2017 Governor’s race …” should have been under “Campaign contributions included”.

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Nice idea.

  3. djrippert Avatar

    Great idea. We’ll see if even a dime is forthcoming.

  4. sherlockj Avatar

    I’m sending it personally to the leadership. It would be cheap at twice the price to improve the views held by Virginians of our elected leaders. Perhaps a small act of charity will help them and the poor.

  5. Thanks, JS — given the gig economy and with everything retail shutting down, the need out there for financial and humane assistance of all sorts is going to grow even faster than the exponential growth of the virus’ infections — the safety net will not hold up without our help. This is a terrific way to tell our politicians “it’s time for you to put your money where your mouth is.”

    1. sherlockj Avatar

      You are welcome. Write your own Senator and Delegate and ask them to step up. Jim

  6. Hope Woodhead Avatar
    Hope Woodhead

    Thank you so much for noticing the good work of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. We greatly appreciate your recognition of the work we are doing to improve the health and well-being of everyone in America.

    We do not believe, however, that we are in the best position to help address the health care needs of individual residents in Virginia. From experience, we know that a community foundation or other state or regional charity will better serve local residents.

    We hope you will encourage your readers to direct their funds to a Virginia organization that can facilitate on-the-ground health services directly to Virginia residents.

    Thank you again,
    Hope Woodhead, Communications, RWJF

  7. sherlockj Avatar

    Thanks for all you do. I will do the research and make the change.

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