Post #292: Hunter Mill campaign finance update: A quarter-million-dollar surprise

Posted on June 6, 2019

This is a followup to Post #280, where I laid out the campaign finances of the Hunter Mill District Democratic candidates for Board of Supervisors.  A colleague tipped me off to the fact that things have changed materially since I posted that, and so that post requires an update.  To be clear, Maggie Parker raised and spent about $250,000 in the past two months, far more than any other Hunter Mill candidate.

Recall that, in Virginia, anyone can give any amount of money to any candidate for state or local office.  The only requirement of the Virginia Campaign Finance Disclosure Act (CFDA) is that the money must be reported to the Commonwealth by the candidate’s Political Action Committee (PAC).   That reporting is the source of the following information.

Let me first refer you to a page on the Reston 20/20 website where that advocacy organization tabulated the April and May fundraising activities of the five candidatesThe outstanding finding there is that Maggie Parker raised and spent about a quarter-million dollars, in just those two months.  That is vastly more than any of the other candidates, whose fundraising amounted to a few tens of thousands of dollars.

You can find the details of who provided the money at the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), by searching for “Parker” and then looking at the latest reported data, as shown here.  Unsurprisingly, most of the money comes either literally from Comstock Partners (Parker’s employer, a major developer in the area) or from firms and individuals in real estate and development.  (The snap below is from the VPAP website, and lists the largest individual donations to Parker over the April-May period).

Weirdly, the “Citizens for A Better Tomorrow” shown above is listed by VPAP as a Republican advocacy organization, and their donations appear to back that up.  And so we have the odd spectacle of a Democratic candidate taking a significant donation from a Republican advocacy organization.

Nothing even remotely similar happened in the Providence District (Tysons and surrounding area) race.  There all the candidates showed a steady pace of fund raising, on order of a few tens of thousands of dollars over the past two months.  You can see the Providence District new fundraising by clicking the “new reports available” links on this page.

That said, the quarter-million-dollars raised for a Board of Supervisor’s seat appears to be dwarfed by the nearly $1M raised by Tim Chapman, candidate for Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.  Almost all of that is his own money in the form of a more-than-$800,000 loan from himself to his campaign.  That said, given that he himself is a developer, that’s not essentially different from Comstock Partners backing Maggie Parker.

I guess the lesson from Parker and Chapman is that developers see a lot at stake in the current elections for Board of Supervisors members and chairman.  And they appear to be quite willing to put their money where they think it will do some good.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, there’s nothing illegal about it.  There’s no barrier to Comstock Partners spending any amount of money to get their employee elected.  Or to having a wealthy developer self-fund a campaign that outspends the nearest rival by about three-to-one.

The only defense that the Virginia CFDA provides is that this has to be public information.  Obviously, money alone is not the whole story.  But it helps to understand the situation.  If you don’t want developers to own the Board of Supervisors, then this public information allows you to rule out a couple of the candidates.