How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

Image result for VA political donors 2019Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet nicely complements “Virginia Is For Lovers.” And, if recent data are evidence of the ways counted, a very large number of folks who do not reside in the Commonwealth have expressed that love. Political contributions data analyzed by the Virginia Public Access Project (see derived from the Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue show a “whole lotta love” coming from outside Virginia for the period January 1 through June 30, 2019, relative to the General Assembly races. As the November 5 voting date closes in, the numbers are likely to increase dramatically as the Commonwealth has been characterized as a bellwether for partisan legislative change and core issues such as gun control.

Democratic fundraising … shows a “whole lotta love” coming from outside Virginia for … January 1 through June 30, 2019, relative to the General Assembly races. As the November 5 voting date closes in, the numbers are likely to increase dramatically.

One of VPAP’s visuals is headed “Blue Conduit: How Activist Groups Solicit Faraway Donors on Behalf of Virginia Democrats.” A subhead states: “In recent years, Democrats have used this model to encourage donors living in deep-blue states to invest in Democrats running in more moderate places such as Virginia.” The data reviewed apply to campaigns for the General Assembly with contributions of $100 or less. However, an examination of the actual data reveals that the descriptive characterizations are less than accurate. For example, “Faraway Donors” is clearly a relative term in light of the fact that 55% (33,738 of 61,342) of the donors are from the Virginia/DC area. The five states contiguous to Virginia (KY, MD, NC, TN, and WV), with only one “deep blue” state (MD), total, in addition to the VA/DC figures, 2,837 donors for $101,207. Both “Faraway Donors” and “deep blue” diminish even further as pertinent criteria when data from not-so-faraway jurisdictions such as FL, GA, OH, PA, and SC, are included.

While it is true that “deep red” states, which generally may be said to be faraway, do not record more than 100 individual donors to Virginia, it is remarkable that Texas is reported as contributing $22,860 from 801 donors, suggesting that “deep red” is an even  more flexible appellation. It is also true that a small number of deep blue states (CA, MA, NY) outperform their 48 counterparts by far.  It must be kept in mind, however, that donor contributions from “faraway” states are likely made in addition to contributions within those states by the same of more inclusive cohort of motivated participants.

Most impressive, however, is the breadth of donors across the continental US, with seven states showing between 507 and 980 donors each (FL, NC, NJ, OR, PA, TX, and WA), totaling $142,186. Again, while WA and OR may be most clearly labeled “faraway” and “deep blue,” other states do not neatly fit that paradigm.

Perhaps most important, the data demonstrate a commitment by thousands upon thousands of small donors to engage in the political process across jurisdictions. Since Democrats, on these numbers, are vastly outperforming the GOP, it remains to be seen whether Republicans establish a fundraising mechanism similar to ActBlue to compete on such a popular nationwide basis for small donors. [The GOP is considering establishment of its own platform, called WinRed.].  

Certainly, the sheer numeric difference (33,738 D to 7,709 R) and dollar totals in Virginia with respect to this narrow slice of campaigning—General Assembly candidates in a single state —will correlate to turnout on Election Day.   An increased level of small-donor participation in the campaigns of both parties across all campaigns  could enhance voter confidence in the process and dampen the effect of Citizens United as the experience with ActBlue under the Democrats seems to represent.

In the meantime, Commonwealth Democrats are counting the ways that small donors are expressing love for Virginia which is, after all, for lovers.



Categories: Issues, Local, National

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