RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia state Republican lawmakers have lost one of their more reliable sources of campaign cash with U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's pending exit from Congress, a loss that's already causing tension within the party.
Cantor's campaign account and the Cantor-controlled 7th District Republican Committee have given more than $700,000 directly to Republican state candidates since Cantor was first elected to Congress in 2000, according to campaign finance reports compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonprofit that tracks political contributions.
Helping Cantor help state politicians were big-name donors from around the country attracted by the majority leader's star power. The late Texas billionaires Bob Perry and Harold Simmons, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson's company and the giant drug maker Pfizer all gave direct donations to the 7th District committee, federal and state campaign finance records show.
Most of the 7th District's funding came from transfers from a joint fundraising committee called the Cantor Victory Fund, which helped raise and distribute millions for both national and state candidates. Known as a prolific fundraiser for fellow Republican congressmen, Cantor strategist and adviser Ray Allen said the soon-to-be-former majority leader was also committed to helping develop Virginia's farm team of GOP pols.
"That's something he always cared about," said Allen, who also works for several GOP state lawmakers. "And now, there's no one to step up and fill that void."
Jeff Ryer, a spokesman for the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus who helps manage state campaigns, said Cantor's total contribution to state lawmakers' fundraising can't solely be measured on campaign finance reports. Cantor would also help state Republicans boost their own fundraising by attending their events and drawing in donors state lawmakers wouldn't typically have access to.
"Everybody is going to have to work harder because one of the regular avenues for fundraising just closed," said Ryer.
But Cantor's ability to cultivate donors from around the country came at a cost. His successful tea party-backed primary opponent, Dave Brat, attacked Cantor during the primary campaign as a creature of Washington who had lost touch with his constituents. Brat beat Cantor by 11 percentage points in last month's GOP primary.
The loss of Cantor's rainmaking comes at an inopportune time for the state GOP, as Democrats control all five statewide elected offices. Former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is awaiting trial on corruption charges, was able to raise millions of dollars for state Republicans through his political action committee. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe is expected to do the same for his team in next year's state-level elections.
Cantor is set to step down as majority leader at the end of July and Allen said the Cantor Victory Fund is in the process of shutting down.
What to do with some of the money being left behind has become a source of tension among Cantor allies and Brat supporters.
In addition to giving $25,000 to the Republican running in a high-stakes state Senate special election in southwest Virginia, a majority of 7th District committee's leadership voted last month to send $300,000 to the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. Brat's backers wanted to use about the same amount to hire staff and do outreach in the Richmond-area 7th Congressional District.
Brat, in a fundraising email to supporters, called the committee's decision to transfer money to Washington-based groups "extremely disappointing."
"This situation won't hold us back, though — it just means we need more help from our most ardent supporters to make up the difference," Brat said.
Asked whether Brat plans to try and fill the money void for state-level candidates left by Cantor's departure, campaign spokesman Brian Gottstein said Brat is focused on winning the general election. Brat, an economics professor, is facing off against Democrat Jack Trammell, who teaches sociology at the same small liberal arts college as Brat in Ashland.
"There will be plenty of time after November 4th to address those types of questions," said Gottstein.