Transparency extends to VPAP’s operations: All donations to the group are listed on its website. Unlike, say, the Center for Responsive Politics which is heavily grant- and foundation-supported and does not accept funds from businesses, unions or trade associations, VPAP’s sponsor list includes all of the above—Comcast, AT&T, the Virginia Association of Realtors, Virginia Bankers Association, to name a few. Give a cursory scan of the donor list and one name stands out: Among the group’s largest donors is Virginia’s governor, Republican Bob McDonnell, who gave $10,000 this year. Via email on Friday, McDonnell touted the group as follows:
A hallmark of our government is the requirement for the people’s business to be conducted in full view of the citizens it serves. VPAP’s non-partisan, non-profit status allows Virginians easy access to the information needed to understand the election process, political considerations, and financing of campaigns and government. I have long been a supporter of this organization as a means to hold government and political leaders accountable to serving the people in an open, transparent way.VPAP’s current board chairman, D. Calloway Whitehead, of the Richmond-based lobbying firm Whitehead Consulting LLC, sounded a similar note via email:
The best thing about VPAP is that all stakeholders view it as an integral part of Virginia’s “sunshine system.” The Governor and the other elected officials who support VPAP recognize that we all share the belief that transparent access to information is better than anything regulations could do to foster an ethical political environment.
The project has three full-time workers and is headed by executive director David M. Poole, a former newspaper reporter who launched the database in 1997, recruited a board that year and expanded the effort into what has become the current site, a one-stop shop for political funding information in the Commonwealth.
Poole surprisingly declined to talk on the record about his work, except to say that his job is to mine the data and put it out there, not to spin it or provide analysis or otherwise talk about what he does.
VPAP’s reports are regularly picked up by Virginia media outlets—for example, in June, by the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily and the Lynchburg News and Advance for pieces on fundraising in a local races.
Ryan Nobles, political reporter with WWBT-TV (Channel 12), the NBC affiliate in Richmond, told me via email that VPAP
make[s] my job much easier because they take very complex data and streamline the material in a way that is simple to obtain. I rarely have time to sift through data reports from the Board of Elections that detail donors to look for trends or figure out how they could impact a race. In many cases, it takes one simple search of their incredibly useful database to get what I’m looking for.VPAP’s partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics yielded a July 2 report detailing the Romney and Obama campaigns’ fundraising hauls in Virginia, by region, through May—each raised more than $2 million in the state, with most of the funds coming from northern Virginia. VPAP also broke this data down by zip code.
Two of the state’s largest news operations, The Virginian-Pilot in Virginia Beach, and The Richmond Times-Dispatch in the capital, made use of the July 2 data, with the Times-Dispatch online noting Romney’s high-end donors from the Richmond area (and Obama’s lack thereof) and in print offering a more detailed look at the fundraising numbers, and The Virginian-Pilot providing its readers with some additional context:
Nationally, Obama has outraised Romney: $255 million to $120 million through May, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Those totals that don’t reflect third party spending in support of, or opposition to, particular candidates.
Nor do they include the $4.6 million Romney’s campaign reported raising nationally — about $200,000 came from Virginia — from about 47,000 donors last week in the 24 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the contested individual insurance mandate in Obama’s health care overhaul law.