Northam PAC Funnels $85,000 to Democratic Candidates

Many recipients previously called for Northam to resign

Ralph Northam
Ralph Northam / Getty Images

Democratic governor Ralph Northam's political action committee in the past two months has donated $85,000 to 13 Democratic candidates running for Virginia state office, many of whom had called on the governor to resign after his racist yearbook page surfaced.

Northam became untouchable in February after a picture of a man in blackface standing with a man in a Ku Klux Klan outfit was discovered on his medical school yearbook page. There were bipartisan calls for him to resign and speculation that he'd be unable to help Democrats campaign for control of both the state House and Senate this November.

Many of the candidates who initially distanced themselves from Northam, however, are now accepting his money.

Northam's The Way Ahead PAC isn't required to disclose its activity until later this summer, but candidates in next Tuesday's state legislature primary elections were required to produce pre-primary reports disclosing donations from April 1 to May 31. Eleven House of Delegates candidates and two state Senate candidates were recipients of money from Northam, according to newly available campaign finance data on Virginia Public Access Project.

All three of the incumbent delegates who reported money from Northam—Kelly Fowler, Dawn Adams, and Schuyler VanValkenburg—had previously called for Northam to resign after his blackface scandal.

"Anything less than resignation is unacceptable," Fowler told the Nation in early February. She received a $5,000 contribution from Northam's Way Ahead PAC on May 1.

Adams, who took a $5,000 contribution from Northam's PAC on May 24, called for Northam to resign within days of the yearbook's release. VanValkenburg, who said Northam "lost the confidence" of Virginia and "must resign," took $5,000 from Northam on May 21.

Delegate John Bell, now running for a seat in the state Senate, took $15,000 from Northam. Bell called for Northam to resign on Feb. 1.

The other Democratic candidates who disclosed money from Northam were Alex Askew, Larry Barnett, Sheila Bynum Coleman, Nancy Guy, Clint Jenkins, Karen Mallard, Shelly Simonds, and Rodney Willett—they each received $5,000. Missy Cotter Smasal, running for a Senate seat, received $15,000.

For most of these candidates the contributions from Northman's PAC are the largest they have received in the pre-primary filing period.

The eight Democratic House of Delegates candidates who received contributions are running in a variety of districts that could flip control of the House of Delegates. Karen Mallard and Larry Barnett, both running against incumbent Republicans, voiced their disappointment in the governor, also calling for him to resign months before accepting money from his PAC.

With slim margins in the state Senate and House of Delegates, Democrats are enthusiastic about their chances to take over all three branches of state government this fall for the first time in 26 years.

Republicans hold a one-seat majority in both legislative chambers. In 2017, Republicans lost 15 seats in the House of Delegates and held on to the majority by winning a tiebreaker.

Northam has remained in office and launched a statewide "listening tour" on race relations. He at first acknowledged he was in the photo but then backtracked, claiming he did not know who was in the photo.

Other statewide Democratic officeholders also became roiled in controversy just after Northam's scandal occurred. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was accused of sexual assault and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface. None have left office, but all have hurt their ability to help Democratic candidates on the trail this November.

An April report from the Virginia Pilot found that fundraising figures for all three had plummeted since their scandals, with Northam raising just $2,500 after news of his yearbook photo emerged.