RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – The chairman of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s political action committee called the PAC’s record-breaking fundraising haul of nearly $2.7 million in the first three months of 2023 “just the start.”
Since then, state records show the Spirit of Virginia PAC has raised more than $1.7 million with the help of large donations from top Republican fundraisers.
This includes a $1 million check from Thomas Peterffy, a billionaire who recently paused his funding for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and a $100,000 donation from casino mogul Steve Wynn.
Youngkin’s big fundraising haul has fueled ongoing speculation about the governor’s 2024 presidential ambitions, a potential move he has not ruled out when asked.
But Randolph-Macon College political science associate professor Richard Meagher said contributions from high-profile donors by themselves don’t indicate a possible run is in the works.
“It could be the canary in the coal mine,” Meagher told 8News, adding that Peterffy’s $1 million check could “set off a cascade” of donations to Youngkin, or it could not.
Youngkin bringing in the $$$
The Spirit of Virginia PAC raised nearly $2.7 million from January to the end of March, an amount that the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), a nonprofit that tracks campaign contributions, says surpassed the previous record in the first quarter of a year raised by then-Gov. Bob McDonnell in 2011.
With Virginia prohibiting such PACs from getting political donations when the General Assembly is in session, the Spirit of Virginia said its first-quarter donations were raised in 30 days.
Youngkin and those leading his PAC have continued to say their focus is on the upcoming state elections. The Spirit of Virginia PAC did not respond to an interview request Tuesday.
Matt Moran, executive director of the Spirit of Virginia PAC, said the governor’s political team has a “singular obsession”: Republicans winning control of the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate when all 140 General Assembly seats are on the ballot this November.
“He’s actually playing the party leader role pretty well in the sense that he is trying to say he’s focused on Virginia,” Meagher said Tuesday.
In a release announcing the fundraising numbers, the PAC said the governor is working to build “an unprecedented, data-driven coordinated campaign in 2023 to hold the House and take the Senate.”
“Whether it’s empowering parents, lowering taxes, or standing up to China – people across Virginia, and across America, are supporting the movement the Governor started in the Commonwealth,” Spirit of Virginia Chairman Dave Rexrode said in a statement. “He will continue to raise resources here at home and nationwide to support the 2023 legislative elections; this is just the start.”
A peek at where the money is going
The Spirt of Virginia PAC spent more than $1.4 million this year, including just over $934,000 on campaigning and $190,120 in political contributions, according to VPAP.
State campaign finance records show the PAC gave the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus $100,000 in January and $25,000 to the Republican Party of Virginia in February. Of the $934,080 that went to campaigning, VPAP shows that more than $365,000 went towards fundraising, which included several fundraising events and consulting work.
According to the state’s records, the PAC has not contributed directly to campaigns this year. But that could change as early voting for the state’s June primaries begins on May 5.
Since 2021, VPAP shows that Spirit of Virginia has given more than $1.4 million to candidates, party committees and single-interest groups.
The PAC has donated $725,750 to Republicans running for state legislature seats and $207,000 to those running statewide, a group that includes out-of-state gubernatorial candidates like Kari Lake and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
Who is giving to Youngkin?
Days before cutting the $1 million check, Peterffy told the Financial Times that he was putting his plans to back DeSantis’ potential presidential bid “on hold” due to the Florida governor’s “stance on abortion and book banning.”
Youngkin did not answer when asked on CNN whether he spoke with Peterffy before the April 20 donation to his PAC.
The Democratic Party of Virginia called out Youngkin for Wynn’s donation, pointing to accusations that the Republican donor and casino developer acted as a foreign agent for China during the Trump administration.
The Justice Department sued to force Wynn to register as a foreign agent, but a judge dismissed the lawsuit, a decision the U.S. said it would appeal. The party linked the case to the governor’s push to get tough on China.
“Youngkin talks a big game on China, but take a peek under the hood,” Liam Watson, the Democratic Party of Virginia’s spokesperson, said in a statement. “Even a cursory examination of Youngkin’s business and political life show that he has no trouble cozying up to the Chinese Communist Party and its foreign agents, if it aids his pursuit of wealth and power.”
Other donations to Youngkin’s PAC include $25,000 from The GEO Group, the company that oversees Virginia’s only privately run state prison, and $10,000 from Bert Ellis, the businessman who Democrats tried to block from remaining on the board of visitors at the University of Virginia.
Youngkin has received money from GOP megadonor Harlan Crow, the billionaire who made headlines after ProPublica reported he had treated U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to luxury vacations for more than two decades without Thomas disclosing the trips.
Crow, who according to reports collects Nazi memorabilia and Hitler paintings, gave $25,000 to Spirit of Virginia last August and $15,000 to Youngkin’s gubernatorial campaign in 2021, VPAP shows.
The Texas billionaire has donated millions to Republicans across the country and in Virginia, including to Ken Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial campaign and Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears’ political action committee.