The Commonwealth Forward PAC is a new Democratic PAC founded to fight lobbyists and corporate interests, even within the Democratic Party, and is funded primarily by $525,000 in May 2021 contributions from the Michael Bills-funded Clean Virginia Fund. Bills has donated $3 million to the fund in 2021, according to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP.)
The PAC has endorsed challenger Pamela Montgomery in her attempt to primary incumbent brand-new Delegate Candi King (D-Prince William) and endorsed Nadarius Clark in his effort to primary incumbent Delegate Steve Heretick (D-Portsmouth.) The PAC has also endorsed Delegate Elizabeth Guzman (D-Prince William) as she tries to fend off a primary challenge from Rod Hall.
“For too long, entrenched lobbyists in Richmond have dictated policies that exclusively benefit corporate interests. Commonwealth Forward was founded in response to this corrosive influence and a lack of meaningful action on campaign finance reform despite a Democratic Trifecta over the past two legislative sessions,” explains the PAC’s website. “Commonwealth Forward aims to break this vicious cycle by electing fresh, bold voices accountable only to Virginia citizens.”
In addition to the Clean Virginia cash, the PAC has received $25,000 from the Green Advocacy Project, and $10,400 from Leonard Bennett, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Clean Virginia has fought against lobbying efforts and cash from Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, and the organization maintains a list of politicians who have taken a stance against the utilities. Guzman is on the list. Heretick and King are not. In addition to the Commonwealth Forward support, Bills’ wife Sonjia Smith has contributed $40,000 of Montgomery’s total $50,600 in receipts to help Montgomery defeat King, according to VPAP data from late March.
The Commonwealth Forward PAC does not accept corporate funds and is focused on a specific kind of candidate for Virginia state office.
“We felt for our first round of endorsements these three candidates really embodied what it means to be reform champions and anti-corruption,” Executive Director Kiera Hall told the Virginia Scope.
Hall told the Virginia Scope that the PAC had received over 100 grassroots donations that will be reported at an upcoming deadline.
“Commonwealth Forward provides resources and support to candidates who are committed to fighting corruption and upholding progressive values,” the PAC’s site states, noting that its candidates “are often intentionally excluded from the traditional institutions that recruit and support candidates.”
This spring, Clean Virginia also funded another apparently new PAC, the Unleash Virginia PAC, with $50,000. According to VPAP, the PAC has no other donors and hasn’t reported support to any candidates yet.
Another anti-utility-money activist group, Activate Virginia, called attention to the PACs on Twitter: “These look like emerging arms of the Michael Bills political apparatus.”
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