Follow The Money: Who Is Investing in the Richmond Mayor’s Race?

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Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has passed the $916,255 he raised in his 2016 campaign, hitting $1.07 million in 2020 by raising $302,294 in the first three weeks of October, according to data from The Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP). Alexsis Rodgers has raised $415,760 in total, despite beginning her race in June. Kim Gray has raised $391,502.

“With 400 grand you can get what you need to. You can have enough staff, enough mailings, enough everything,” pundit Paul Goldman told The Virginia Star last week.

The VPAP data show’s Stoney’s big 2020 donors: Terry McAuliffe’s Common Good VA PAC is Stoney’s biggest donor, giving $60,000 to the Mayor for his re-election. Washington D.C.-based attorney and lead VPAP donor Ronald Abramson gave Stoney $30,000. The Mid-Atlantic branch of the Laborers International Union gave him $25,000 in cash and $25,026 in in-kind funding. Virginia Realtors PAC also gave Stoney $31,923 in in-kind funding.

In the past two weeks, Stoney again spent big on TV/Radio — $212,919, but has increased his web spending from $951 in September to $13,292, according to VPAP.

Rodgers has had some big donors in 2020, including $100,000 from major Virginia Democratic donor Sonjia Smith and $49,530 from New Virginia Majority, a racial-equity-focused PAC.  Smith’s husband, Michael Bills, gave Rodgers $25,000. Smith and Bills also fund the Clean Virginia PAC.

In 2019, The Virginia Mercury, also partially funded by Smith, reported about Bills, “The former Goldman Sachs executive is now the largest individual campaign donor in the state, with contributions totaling $1.7 million so far this year, according to [VPAP], which tracks money in politics.”

But Rodgers’ stand-out success is with donors giving less than $100. According to VPAP, she’s received over 2,145 donations of $100 or less, dwarfing Stoney, who has received 701 such donations, and Gray, who’s received 350. High numbers of small donors suggest strong grassroots support from younger voters, according to Goldman.

Ignoring TV/Radio spending, Rodgers has increased her web spending to $50,100 in the first three weeks of October, compared to $20,866 in September.

According to VPAP, Gray’s top 2020 donations include $35,000 from realtor William O’Connor, $23,171 from her PAC for her city council run, $5,000 from Richmond-based Estes Express Lines CEO Robey Estes, and $5,000 from his wife, Jean Estes.

In the past three weeks, Gray paid digital marketing firm Nexivate $38,415, and spent $31,000 on TV/Radio, according to VPAP. In September, she paid Nexivate $67,490, and spent $25,577 on radio.

Despite all that cash, Stoney has recently struggled to poll above 40 percent. According to both Goldman and Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond), that suggests high unpopularity and good chances for a challenger who can reach the high number of undecided voters.

“It will be a nail-biter,” Morrissey said on Monday on the John Fredericks Radio Show.

Full disclosure: In September, the John Fredericks Radio Network donated $400 to Kim Gray’s campaign.

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Richmond City Hall” by Taber Andrew Bain. CC BY 2.0.

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