The latest round of campaign finance disclosures in the Charlottesville City Council race shows independent candidate Nikuyah Walker recently received a windfall of $10,000, the largest individual donation in this year’s race, from a local Democratic donor who contributed $650,000 this year to former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Perriello.
In June, Sonjia Smith’s preferred candidate in the primary, who was supported by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, lost to Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam by more than 60,000 votes, a margin of about 11 percent.
As the city approaches the statewide Nov. 7 general election, the donation from Perriello’s biggest financial supporter this year has rocketed Walker’s fundraising total closer to the amounts raised by the two Democratic candidates. Amy Laufer has raised approximately $26,300, Heather Hill has raised about $25,900 and Walker has raised more than $19,900.
Walker also received 19 contributions of less than $100 last month, the largest number of such donations in the council race.
Aside from shoring up resources for Walker’s campaign, Smith’s donation is a signal that some Democrats in the community, whether they’re part of the so-called establishment or further-left activist class, could split the ballot and cast one of their two votes for an independent candidate in the council election.
Smith declined Tuesday to discuss her donations to Walker and Perriello. Walker declined to speak about it on the record Tuesday but said she plans to talk about it at a later date.
Independent candidate Kenny Jackson, despite incurring $300 in campaign finance reporting penalties and losing approximately $850 to bank overdraft fees this year, has managed to keep pace in the fundraising race.
Whereas Laufer and Hill raised $2,700 and $2,000, respectively, in September, Jackson reported nearly $6,900 in campaign contributions last month.
Jackson’s gains show that he could also take centrist and conservative voters away from the Democratic candidates. Jackson, who ran for City Council as a Republican in 2004, has spoken out against the council’s intent to remove Confederate monuments, winning support from some moderate and conservative voters in the city and the surrounding community.
In an email Tuesday, Hill said she and Laufer, who are now part of a coordinated campaign, are continuing to work on voter outreach.
“To support these efforts, fundraising has and continues to be an important component, but it is just one piece,” Hill said.
“Seeing how other candidates are raising funds certainly provides perspective on if and how much further investment I should be seeking from supporters in these last weeks. However, I believe my time is best spent continuing to most directly engage with citizens and community partners, sharing our ideas on how to address the priorities we have been hearing as well as a message of collaboration and unity in these unprecedented times.”
Laufer expressed the same sentiment, saying that fundraising is “only one aspect of the campaign.”
“It’s critical to meet people where they’re at and have conversations with them. You fundraise because you want to do a mailer or yard signs, but there’s many other aspects,” to running a campaign, Laufer said.
According to his report, Jackson received a $2,000 donation from retired Virginia Department of Corrections employee Smith J. Paul and a $1,450 in-kind contribution for campaign signs and other materials. Jackson also reported a contribution of $125 from George Urban, chairman of the Albemarle County Republican Committee, and $250 from Clifford Hall, an advocate for the region’s homeless population who failed to qualify for the ballot earlier this year as a council candidate.
Both Hill and Laufer reported a $250 contribution from Friends of Jane Dittmar, a political committee which had been created to support the former Albemarle County supervisor who lost to Rep. Tom Garrett in last year’s 5th Congressional District race. Each Democratic candidate also received a $250 donation from relatives of the Van Yahres family. (Former city mayor and state Del. Mitchell Van Yahres passed away in 2008.)
Laufer’s largest donation last month was a $1,000 contribution from Ascend PAC, a political action committee which is supporting Democratic candidates in local and state races in Texas and Virginia, her report showed.
Laufer and Hill last month counted about $800 and $600 in itemized and in-kind expenses, respectively. Both candidates received a collective of approximately $700 in in-kind contributions from the Charlottesville Democratic Committee for postal fees, web design and event tabling fees, their reports show.
Meanwhile, Walker itemized $4,175 in expenses, which included $580 for “community center dinners,” $200 for voter registration information from the Virginia Department of Elections and about $1,500 in campaign materials. Jackson itemized $4,500 in expenses, which included $224 in bank overdraft fees and $608 in ATM cash withdrawals. His report did not describe what the cash was spent on.
City Registrar Rosanna Bencoach said her office has yet to review the reports but added that candidates are required to give a brief description of how they spent campaign funds.
Independent candidates John Hall and Paul Long did not report any expenses or contributions in the last reporting period. Long had about $20 in his campaign account as of Sept. 30. Hall earlier this year applied for a reporting exemption, stating that he does not plan to raise funds for his campaign.
The three uncontested candidates for Charlottesville School Board also did not report any contributions or expenditures last month. Incumbents Leah Puryear and Juandiego Wade have also requested an exemption from filing finance reports. The third candidate, Lisa Larson-Torres, has a balance of $530 and did not report any new expenditures or contributions.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania raised nearly $25,000 earlier this year. In a June primary, Platania defeated attorney Jeff Fogel to win the party nomination. Platania is uncontested and has a balance of $385 remaining in his campaign account, according to his last finance disclosure.
The final campaign filing deadline before the Nov. 7 election is Oct. 30.