VIRGINIA — Super PACs have been pouring money into Virginia for months, now, seeking to sway the presidential contest and the Senate race between Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine.
But they’ve also been filling their coffers with money from Virginians—well, at least the super PACs on the right have.
A new tool unveiled this week by the nonpartisan Virginian Public Access Project and the Center for Responsive Politics’s OpenSecrets.org makes it easier than ever to track that cash flowing from commonwealth residents to the super PACs, and several newsrooms—including The Washington Post, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and The Roanoke Times—promptly made use of the data for some initial reporting. Here’s hoping (and expecting) that more thorough work will soon follow.
VPAP, whose commitment to campaign-finance transparency CJR has written about before, has taken Open Secrets’s data and made it simple to search for Virginia-specific information. There’s a list of top Virginia donors to super PACs, a list of how much different groups have raised in the state, and much more. It’s a remarkable resource that’s a breeze to click through.
The most obvious use for any newsroom is to take a quick look at the top “influencers” in your coverage area. That was the tack taken by the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Tuesday. The article, by Wesley P. Hester, starts with a good question:
It’s no secret that super PACs are funneling massive sums of money into this year’s presidential election, but who’s funneling the money to them?
Hundreds of Virginians are helping — some generously, according to new analysis by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in state politics.
The state’s top donors include several from the Richmond area, all of whom have given to conservative causes. Prominent local entrepreneurs, including Bruce C. Gottwald and William H. Goodwin Jr., have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars, and one Hanover County business owner, Robert W. Bailie, has started his own super PAC focused on individual rights.
That got the local angle covered up high. The Times-Dispatch also covered other stuff you want to know in a first-day report: two paragraphs on what super PACs are and their origins, a perspective graph from ubiquitous political scientist Larry Sabato on the groups’ impact in this election cycle, and a look at other top super PAC donors from across Virginia and which groups they gave to. The story was supplemented with a box on Virginians who gave $25,000 or more, and links to VPAP.
The Washington Post, in a Monday article by Laura Vozzella, emphasized the overall money flow from Virginia rather than individual donors—as you would expect from a national newspaper, even in local coverage. The emphasis was on the gaping partisan disparity in the state:
RICHMOND — The race for president in Virginia is neck and neck, but a crucial contest for political cash is a blowout.
Virginians have given nearly $4 million to conservative super PACs in the 2012 election cycle but just $76,000 to liberal versions of these political action committees, according to an analysis by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in politics.
Donations to super PACs skew conservative nationally, partly for reasons of ideology, partly because Republicans had a long, hard-fought primary. But the ratio is more like 3 to 1, not 50-plus to 1.
And the Post used a clever example to put the difference into context:
A PAC devoted to preserving the Democratic majority in the Senate pulled in just $2,500 over that period — a mere $237 more than comedian Stephen Colbert’s tongue-in-cheek Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow PAC.