Late last year it was reported that a new Political Action Committee (PAC) had been formed to help fund the campaigns of candidates running in the upcoming Mayoral and City Council elections. The group, Leadership Richmond, was a new enough and different enough kind of thing in our community that I know a number of people who follow local politics took notice, myself included.
The most recent episode of WCTV’s show In Focus spent some time trying to explain what the Leadership Richmond PAC is about, and you may want to check it out (the discussion of the PAC starts after timecode 31:25):
Though I’m glad it was produced, the brief segment doesn’t shed a whole lot of light on things. We know there are a group of people who have formed an organization to facilitate supporting candidates, through fundraising and other methods. We don’t know who all of them are but we are told they cross partisan lines and represent many different parts of the community. We don’t know how they plan to spend their money. We don’t know exactly how much they have raised or have had pledged, but it’s at least $25,000. We can learn a little more from paperwork filed at the state level and other media reports, but not a lot.
Full disclosure before I comment further: I’ve run as an at-large candidate for City Council in the past, I was approached by someone who I believe was acting on behalf of the PAC asking if I was interested in running for Council again with their support (I wasn’t), and I have on a few occasions acted in an advisory role to Dave Snow’s campaign since his announcement that he is running for Mayor, completely unaffiliated with this PAC.
Some people seem to have a negative reaction to the very existence of a group like this.
I don’t know that it’s so shocking or unexpected given the heavy influence that groups like this (and their money) are playing in politics at the national and state levels. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to have a group of people engaged in local politics who want to put their money where their mouths are.
Many of us have opinions about what direction the community should go in…does it have to be nefarious to do something tangible about that? If you had a bunch of money to throw at a candidate you thought would do good things for
your personal interests the needs of our city, wouldn’t you consider it? Yes, our campaign finance laws are incredibly broken and problematic, but hey…corporations are people, money is speech, T.S. can afford to pull her music from Spotify…it’s a crazy new world, right?
What they have to be careful of, I think, is the appearance of a small group of relatively wealthy, privileged people, who presumably already have a lot of influence and power in Richmond, using their money to further extend their influence into elected offices that ostensibly represent all residents of our city, not just the people with money or power. Even if that’s legal, it doesn’t feel right if it seems like people without money and influence may lose their voice in city government in the process.
The “aww-shucks, we’re just trying to help our grandkids” routine in this broadcast wasn’t much of a convincing or substantive answer to those concerns. Politics is a game of winning and losing and at some level they’ll need to have a political agenda that they’re pursuing, competing against other candidates and their agendas along the way. It didn’t help that the two figures trying to allay concerns about rich, white business owners controlling candidates were two wealthy, white business owners themselves. I am sure that Eric VanVleet meant well as host, but to have the person doing the “interviewing” be someone who also has a personal financial interest in the group’s activities seems problematic, even with a much-appreciated disclaimer.
But overall, you have to give Leadership Richmond credit for participating in some kind of conversation about what they’re up to, and promising more transparency to come. And maybe I just admire the boldness of it all, in a “the circus has come to town” sort of way. In a place where candidates often succeed or fail because of their personal appeal to the average voter, having a well-funded and slightly mysterious PAC behind your campaign could be more of a liability than anything else.
One thing is clear: a new season of politics has come to Richmond, and people with power and money who have a stake in the outcome are making themselves known in a new way.
Whether that’s good or bad for our city remains to be seen.