Forget the Polls: Follow the Money

October financial disclosures highlight key differences in Comstock-Wexton fundraising and outside spending.

Incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) continues to be a formidable fundraiser as she tries to maintain the only Republican congressional seat in the D.C. metropolitan area.

But for the first time, Comstock faces an opponent who is nearly as well-funded as she is in the battle for Virginia’s 10th Congressional District seat: state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D).

The most recent financial filings, through Oct. 17, show that Wexton has raised nearly $5.4 million, overwhelmingly from individual contributors, while Comstock has played her strong advantage with Political Action Committee (PAC) contributors to hold onto a financial lead with almost $5.8 million raised.

Wexton’s haul is nearly double that of Comstock’s last opponent, Democrat LuAnn Bennett, who raised a total of $2.8 million in the 2016 campaign. Wexton has nearly double the cash remaining as Comstock heading into the final weeks of the campaign, as Comstock’s campaign spent early and often on television advertising.

Newly filed reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) also revealed that “outside spending” in Virginia soared in 2018 by groups seeking to influence midterm U.S. House elections.

According to the FEC’s “Independent Expenditures” report, non-candidate spending in all Virginia Congressional districts rose to a record $9.2 million through September of this year.

When Comstock launched her first bid for Virginia’s 10th Congressional district in 2014, the race became a spending battleground by non-candidate groups, including the Republican and Democratic national committees.

The term “outside spending,” or “non-candidate spending” refers to political expenditures made by groups or individuals to advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate without coordination with the candidates’ committees.

Large outside spenders include so-called “SuperPACs,” officially called “independent-expenditure only committees,” which arose after the U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United v. F.E.C., and the related Circuit Court decision SpeechNOW.org v. F.E.C., which held certain parts of the McCain-Feingold Act limits on campaign contributions to be unconstitutional.

Unlike conventional PACS, SuperPACs are not allowed to contribute directly to candidates’ campaigns, or coordinate with the campaigns. But they can accept unlimited contributions and spend an unlimited amount supporting or opposing federal election candidates independently.

Outside spending is breaking in favor of Wexton, with more than $5.5 million spent either in support of Wexton or against Comstock, compared to approximately $4.8 million spent favoring Comstock or opposing Wexton.

That’s a change from 2016, where outside spending was $7.9 million on the Republican side and $6.8 million for her then-opponent Bennett. Total outside spending in 2016 was nearly $15 million vs. less than $10.5 million in 2018.

Money Talks

Campaign Contributions: Under Federal law, individuals may contribute up to $2,700 to a campaign; PACs who support multiple candidates may contribute up to $5,000.

  • Comstock has received almost $1.4 million more from PACs than Wexton.
  • PACs comprise more than 30 percent of Comstock’s contributions, whereas Wexton has received only slightly more than seven percent from PACs.
  • Wexton has received $1.5 million more from individual contributors than Comstock, which comprise 93 percent of Wexton’s total to date.

Outside Spending: Groups in this category range from the conventional party committees to the more controversial SuperPACS and 501(c) “dark money” organizations, according to The Center for Responsive Politics.

The top three outside spenders supporting Comstock or opposing Wexton have been:

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), $4,352,686 (slightly more than the $4,069,986 the NRCC spent in 2016); U.S. Chamber of Commerce, $350,000, and Defending Main Street, $50,000.

The top three outside spenders supporting Wexton or opposing Comstock have been:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), $2,804,872 (significantly less than the $4,069,986 the DCCC spend in 2016); the Independence USA SuperPAC (created by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg), $1,579,330; and Giffords SuperPAC (created by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her astronaut husband Mike Kelly), $996,994.

Sources:

The Center for Responsive Politics; Virginia Public Access Project; Federal Election Commission; Ballotpedia

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