Comstock’s Dem Challenger Raised Nearly Half Her $1 Million War Chest in California

Republicans label Friedman the 'Jon Ossoff of 2018' after Streisand, Soros, Raitt donations

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• February 16, 2018 4:57 am


Alison Friedman, a Democrat who moved to Northern Virginia last year to challenge Republican representative Barbara Comstock, received nearly half of her $1 million in donations from California, most of which came from the liberal strongholds of the Bay Area and Los Angeles, federal election records show.

The campaign for control of Virginia's 10th district promises to be of the closest contests of 2018 as the two-term Comstock tries to hold onto the Northern Virginia district against a crowded field of 11 Democratic challengers, including Friedman.

The district voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a 10-point margin in 2016, 52 to 42 percent, but Comstock still managed to pull off a 6-point victory against the Democratic challenger in her own race that year.

Democrats are trying to make a repeat performance as difficult as possible for Comstock this year, attempting to capitalize on Democratic activism in the Trump era.

After posting her first quarter fundraising receipts, Friedman, a former State Department official in the Obama administration who worked on human trafficking issues, quickly shot to the top tier of the Democratic field competing for a chance to challenge Comstock.

Other top Democratic primary candidates include Virginia state senator Jennifer Wexton, former federal prosecutor Paul Pelletier, former Obama administration official Lindsey Davis Stover, and Army veteran Dan Helmer.

Campaign-finance reports for last year, which became public in late January, show Friedman collected nearly $1 million in donations, far outraising her other Democratic rivals but still falling well behind the $1.9 million Comstock collected in 2017.

Analysis of the receipts shows Friedman is reaching across the country to tap into widespread anti-Trump fervor in Hollywood and California as a whole to fuel her race and fill her campaign coffers.

Forty-eight percent of Friedman's donations came from California, while only 5 percent of her total came from donors who live in Virginia and only 4 percent from supporters who reside in nearby D.C., according to campaign-finance records.

The star-studded list of Democratic donors and celebrities from California and New York includes Barbra Streisand, actress Jennifer Garner, singer Bonnie Raitt, as well as George Soros, his son Alexander, and the Pritzker family—one of the richest families in the United States, best known for their ownership of the Hyatt hotel chain among other businesses.

Other West Coast donors include Bill Neukom, the former general partner of the San Francisco Giants, Peter Getty, grandson of the oil tycoon heir, and his wife, as well as singer Graham Nash.

D.C.-area notables who cut checks include: Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation; Donna Brazile, former head of the Democratic National Committee; Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland who is Robert Kennedy's oldest child; and Adrian Fenty, D.C.'s former mayor.

J Street, a liberal lobbying group critical of Israel that strongly backed the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran, donated a total of $5,950 to Friedman last year.

Friedman also spent campaign funds for what appears to be overnight stays at three hotels in California and one in New York City late last year.

In November her campaign paid for lodging at the Marriott Beverly Hills, what she listed on election records as "The L.A. Hotel" and the "San Mateo Hotel," in the Bay Area's Silicon Valley, as well as the Hotel Pennsylvania in midtown Manhattan.

The campaign paid $338 each to the Marriott Beverly Hills and the "L.A. Hotel" in November, $505 to the "San Mateo Hotel," and $668 to the Hotel Pennsylvania in November, according to federal election records.

Comstock's receipts show nearly the opposite picture; most of her base financial support is located in Virginia and her district. More than three-quarters of Comstock's donations are from the state of Virginia, while an estimated 34 percent of her donations come from the district itself, and another 20 percent from Washington, D.C., according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis.

Notable donors to Comstock include the campaign committees of Ed Gillespie, who lost his race for Virginia governor last year; the political action committee of former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton; Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security secretary under President George W. Bush; and former Mississippi governor and former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour.

Business donors include Boeing, United Airlines, Microsoft, General Electric, Ernst & Young, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed-Martin, and the National Federation of Independent Business.

During her three years in Congress, Comstock has made a name for herself standing up for women in sexual harassment conflicts and pushing a bill that would provide more federal money for the D.C. metro system thousands of her constituents rely on in exchange for reforms.

She also recently directly admonished President Donald Trump for wishing for a shutdown that would directly impact the many government workers in her district.

As a newcomer to the area, Friedman needs all the money she can get to raise her name I.D. in the district and compete with Comstock. Friedman moved to the district from D.C. in April last year, purchasing a House in McLean for a little more than $1 million.

In contrast, Comstock and her husband, a retired Fairfax County Schools assistant principal, have lived in the district for more than 30 years and raised their three children there. Comstock, a longtime Washington lawyer, served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 2010 to 2015, before her election to Congress.

Some Republicans wonder why Friedman chose to run in Virginia, instead of California, where her wealthy political activist family has ties to other liberal activists, celebrities, and philanthropists—the same group that is funding her Northern Virginia campaign.

A National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman called Friedman the "Jon Ossoff of 2018." Ossoff is a 30-year-old filmmaker and former Democratic aide who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Congressional seat left open when former Rep. Tom Price (R., Ga.) became Health and Human Services secretary last year.

The hotly contested special election contest was the most expensive House race in history with more than $56 million raised and spent in a race Democrats billed as a referendum on Trump's presidency.

Ossoff's campaign collected $30 million, the vast majority of which came from outside the district. Ossoff came in first in Georgia’s "jungle primary," winning 48 percent of the vote, but ultimately did not capture 50 percent of the vote against Republican Karen Handel.

"When California liberal Alison Friedman plays catch up in Virginia's 10th district—going to events that Barbara Comstock has been going to for 10 years—we've been looking through her finance reports, and it's not pretty," said Maddie Anderson, an NRCC spokeswoman.

"Given that her Virginia contributions are next to non-existent, while her California contributions are through the roof, I'm left trying to figure out just where exactly Alison is running for Congress in California," Anderson said. "A ton of San Francisco cash and the backing of Hollywood elites? Alison should ask congressman Jon Ossoff how that strategy worked out for him."

Friedman's campaign did not respond to multiple Washington Free Beacon inquiries. A message sent to the email for media inquiries listed on Friedman's campaign website,, produced a bounceback message. There was also no response from a campaign aide's email provided by Perkins Coie, the law firm Friedman lists on her federal election records.

In addition to her ability to raise money, Friedman's family fortune, a large portion of which comes from holdings in San Francisco-headquartered Levi Strauss & Co., could help her self-finance her campaign.

Among Friedman's numerous financial assets are an investment property in Hawaii worth between $1 and $5 million and Levi Strauss holdings worth between $1 and $5 million, which produced $50,000 to $100,000 in dividends last year and the year before, her personal financial disclosure report shows. She also owns between $1.25 to $6 million in Berkshire Hathaway stock.

Personal financial disclosure reports only ask for broad ranges of asset values.

While the independent wealth is an obvious campaign asset, Republicans argue the Friedman family's longtime ties to liberal interests won't play well in the distinctly purple district, home to tens of thousands of federal government workers, many at nearby CIA headquarters, as well as employees of several big defense contractors.

Friedman's mother, Kristina Kiehl, co-founded the political action committee Voters for Choice along with feminist Gloria Steinem, and has helped develop political ads and hold events for numerous Democratic candidates, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), former Vice President Al Gore, and former Texas governor Ann Richards, among others, according to her bio listed on a documentary she helped make.

In 2004, for instance, Kiehl and Steinem organized a "1,500 Mile Tour" in support of Democratic candidates in the Midwest, and in 2008, the pair traveled to Colorado to work with local organizations and plan 30 events in nine days to benefit Democratic candidates.

Friedman's father, Robert Friedman, worked for former president Jimmy Carter when he was Georgia governor, according to a bio in a press release for an award he received from the Association of Enterprise Opportunity, an organization he founded to assist "underserved" entrepreneurs and facilitate "closing the wealth gap."

He also has served for 25 years on the Friedman Family Foundation's board of governors and is a past member of the Levi Strauss Foundation.

The Friedman Family Foundation, is a small grant-making organization founded by Robert Friedman's mother. Its list of grants includes $10,000 to the Universal Income Project, which is devoted to establishing a government-provided, regular "livable" income to all Americans.

UPDATE 12:55 P.M.: This story has been updated to compare origins of personal contributions, not including PAC donations.