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UPDATED: McDonnell rakes in hefty donations but trails Kaine's early record

Rosalind Helderman

A new report from the Virginia Public Access Project illustrates how statewide office holders have been affected by a change in the law that prevents them from rolling contributions collected for their Inaugural festivities into political action committees.

VPAP, a nonpartisan tracker of money in politics, shows that Gov. Bob McDonnell's new political action committee Opportunity Virginia collected $266,155 in the first quarter of this year--from Jan. 1 to April 15. That means the PAC has taken in $429,500 since it was formed shortly after the election.

Is that a lot?

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Certainly, it meant for some big gifts--Radford businessman Randall Kirk gave $100,000 in December. New York Venture Capitalist John Griffin gave $50,000 in January and coal mining executive Richard Gilliam gave $50,000 on Dec. 30.

And it certainly dwarfs donations collected three months into office by Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine in 2006. He collected just $4,343 in direct donations to his PAC Moving Virginia Forward.

But here's where the legal change becomes important.

In 2006, Kaine collected a whopping $3.14 million for his Inaugural committee, far more than he needed to fund events surrounding his oath taking. He was able to roll over unused donations into his PAC--to the tune of $400,000 by the end of the first quarter of the year and more than $450,000 by the end of 2006.

McDonnell collected $1.89 million for his Inaugural Committee and spent almost all of it on events. Barred from using any leftover funds for political purposes, he donated $100,000 to charity.

So, between both committees and some final fundraising for their election efforts, by the end of the first quarter of 2006, Kaine had raised $3.15 million since his election the previous November. By contrast, McDonnell has raised $2.45 million. That means Kaine outraised McDonnell by about $700,000.

Of course, the recession might have dampened giving to a new governor this year. And Kaine might have raised funds more aggressively for his Inaugural events knowing his Inaugural, which took place in Williamsburg, was likely to be more expensive than most.

It will now be especially interesting to watch what happens in the second quarter of the year. With all of that Inaugural fundraising already complete, Kaine raised just $132,000 in the second quarter. Will McDonnell's PAC staff, led by former campaign manager Phil Cox, to top that? It could well be.

McDonnell will want to make sure his campaign chest is healthy heading into 2011, when every seat in the House of Delegates and Senate is up for election. His PAC money can help win him loyalty from Republican incumbents who need help with their reelection efforts and challengers hoping to help the GOP pick up seats.

UPDATE 4:38 p.m.: Phil Cox, executive director of McDonnell's PAC says the governor is "very pleased" with the support he has so far received. Cox said fundraising has not been a huge focus in the first quarter of the year. "The governor has been focused on setting up his government through the transition and on governing. We will ramp up our fundraising efforts in the second quarter. We have a number of events coming up, and I think a better assesssment would be the July 15 report," he said.

"We're not competitng with Tim Kaine," he also said.

Cox also notes there were five special elections during Kaine's first three months in office and his staff would likely have wanted to raise money quickly to help Democrats in those races. There have been only three since McDonnell took office, and he gave money in only two of those races. (Republican Jeff McWaters did not face serious opposition for the senate from Virginia Beach and received no help from the governor's PAC.) "You have to have a reason to be raising money," Cox said.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  April 16, 2010; 2:58 PM ET
Categories:  Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman , Timothy M. Kaine  
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