This story was published in collaboration with the Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism at WHRO.
Virginia’s high-stakes General Assembly elections on Nov. 7 are the commonwealth’s most expensive on record — and could prove to be among the costliest legislative elections in U.S. history.
Candidates running to fill all 140 seats of the Virginia General Assembly raised nearly $45.1 million between Oct. 1 and Oct. 26, according to campaign finance reports filed last week and reviewed by OpenSecrets and the Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism at WHRO.
The latest cash infusion brings total fundraising by legislative candidates this election cycle to nearly $174.8 million — up from an inflation-adjusted total of $135.5 million in 2019.
All seats in the state legislature are on the ballot every four years.
Virginia state Senate candidates have raised a record $94 million, while candidates for the House of Delegates have collected $80.8 million.
The historic fundraising follows a post-Census scrambling of Virginia’s legislative districts, which were redrawn under supervision of the Virginia Supreme Court after a bipartisan committee failed to agree on a redistricting plan. The court-approved electoral maps did not favor incumbents, pitting several veteran lawmakers against one another, forcing others into new districts and triggering a wave of retirements that left a third of the seats open in each chamber.
The changes meant a more competitive map going into a pivotal election year. Control of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates is likely to come down to about a dozen seats across the two chambers. Democrats currently maintain a slim majority in the state Senate, while Republicans hold the House.
The record-breaking sum reflects the rising cost of elections in Virginia, which, unlike the federal government and most other states, places no limits on the amount of money candidates can accept from individuals, corporations and political action committees.
Total fundraising by state legislative candidates has increased four-fold over the last two decades — from $44.2 million in 2003, when adjusted for inflation.
Money has poured into Virginia’s most competitive races, mainly for state senate seats, records show. Virginia’s most expensive race is between two political newcomers: Democrat Perry Russet and Republican Juan Pablo Segura, who are competing for an open state senate seat in Northern Virginia.
Russet, a former CIA officer and county prosecutor, has raised about $6 million, according to state campaign finance reports. Her top donors include the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus and Virginia Democratic Party, which have collectively steered about $2.8 million to her campaign.
Segura, a co-founder of the digital healthcare company Babyscript, has raised $5 million. Of that, more than $2 million came from Renew Virginia, a political action committee bankrolled by Securiport, a security tech company led by Segura’s father.
Other top fundraisers include incumbent state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) and state Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-Henrico). Dunnavant, a doctor who has served in the Virginia Senate since 2016, is fending off VanValkenburg in a competitive senate district outside of Richmond. She raised about $5.1 million to VanValkenburg’s $4.7 million. Both are heavily backed by their respective parties.
In Southeast Virginia, the most expensive race is between incumbent state Sen. Monty Mason (D-Williamsburg) and former York-Poquoson Sheriff Danny Diggs, a Republican. Mason and Diggs have raised about $5.1 million and $3.9 million, respectively.
Following unusually expensive primary elections in June, Virginia Democratic and Republican parties, along with party leaders, have steered nearly $50.2 million to candidates.
But several companies and special interest groups have also poured money into the election. This year’s top donor is the utility giant Dominion Energy, which has given about $10 million to legislative candidates. The publicly-regulated company frequently ranks among the largest donors to political campaigns.
These totals do not include contributions to party committees and PACs, which are also major fundraisers.
Another top donor is Clean Virginia Fund, a PAC funded by investor and environmentalist Michael Bills. The PAC, which Bills formed to counter Dominion Energy’s political influence, has given about $9.4 million to candidates who refuse to accept money from publicly-regulated monopolies.
Independent political organizations — including so-called “dark money” groups that do not disclose their donors — have also reported spending more than $4.2 million on this election, paying for political ads, canvassing and mailers in support of their preferred candidates.
The next campaign finance reports covering the final days of Virginia’s elections are due Dec. 7.