The Impact of Small-Dollar Donations in Virginia Elections

Sep 24, 2019

Candidates often brag about the amount of money they’ve pulled in. But, sometimes a campaign is known more for the amount of donors.

Running against Republican House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert isn’t easy. First elected back in 2005, Gilbert is well known in his district and has raised almost half a million dollars. His opponent this year, Beverly Harrison, has only been able to raise a very small fraction of that. But she has the highest percentage of small-dollar donors, people who have $100 or less. 

“Large-dollar donations are great, and I’ve had some. I’ve had some $500 checks. But it’s the small dollar donations," Harrison says. "They usually come with a story, and they come with a powerful vote of confidence behind them.”

Bob Denton at Virginia Tech says the ability to raise a large number of small-dollar donations is an indication of momentum in any kind of campaign.

Credit NPR

“Same way we see in university fundraising, when they say hey it’s not the amount. It’s just that emotional connection. Give something," he explains. "And so the large number shows enthusiasm, activism and commitment and they will be the ones who show up at the polls and vote.”

Democratic challengers running against Republican incumbents are the top recipients of small-dollar donations. That’s according to numbers posted to the Virginia Public Access Project and it includes candidates running against Delegate Nick Rush, Delegate Nick Freitas and Delegate Rob Bell.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.