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PolitiFact VA: Spanberger doesn’t take money from corporate PACs, but corporate money is hard to avoid

Rep. Abigail Spanberger speaks
Rep. Abigail Spanberger speaks at a 2021 event at Glen Allen High School. (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Speaker: Abigail Spanberger
Statement: “I don’t accept a dime of corporate money.”
Date: Sept. 2
Setting: Twitter

When corporations offer campaign contributions, Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) says she turns away.

"I don’t accept a dime of corporate money,” she tweeted on Sept. 2.

Spanberger, seeking a third term in Congress this fall, is running against Republican Yesli Vega, a Prince William County supervisor. They’re competing in the newly redrawn 7th Congressional District that has 72% of its population in Prince William, Stafford and Spotsylvania counties.

Since her first campaign in 2018, Spanberger has pledged to reject corporate money, and Republicans have accused her of accepting backdoor contributions from big businesses. 

According to her latest filings with the Federal Election Commission, Spanberger raised $5.6 million in contributions from the start of 2021 through the end of June 2022. None of that money came directly from corporations.

But here’s an asterisk: While Spanberger refuses direct donations from corporate PACs, she accepts contributions from other PACs that contain corporate-directed money.

Spanberger has accepted money from both leadership PACs, which are set up by most members of Congress to help candidates from their party, and ideological PACs, which focus on special causes, such as regulation, defense or health care. Some of the political action committees that have donated to Spanberger receive money from corporate PACs.

One example: Spanberger has received a maximum of $10,000 from the Forward Together PAC, associated with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). Forward Together has accepted contributions from a list of corporate PACs, including Amazon, Microsoft, Pfizer, Lockheed Martin, General Motors and Dominion. We counted 57 leadership PACs that contributed to Spanberger’s campaign between the start of 2021 and June 30, 2022. Forty-eight of the PACs accepted corporate-tied donations.

We don’t know the exact amount of corporate money that has seeped into Spanberger’s campaign coffer through leadership PACs, but it’s relatively small. 

Spanberger collected $187,500 in leadership PAC donations from the start of 2021 through June 30, 2022, which was 3.4% of all the money she raised. And much of the money raised by the leadership PACs did not come from corporate sources. 

Perspective

Sixty-one members of Congress — including one Republican, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida — have current promises not to accept corporate money, according to End Citizens United, a Washington-based nonprofit seeking to tighten campaign finance laws. Spanberger is the only Virginia congress member to make the pledge. Campaign finance advocates told us they’re unaware of any incumbent who is declining both corporate and leadership PAC money.

End Citizens United endorsed Spanberger because of her no-corporate-money pledge and her support of campaign finance reforms. A spokesperson for the organization said her acceptance of leadership PAC money is unimportant. “She has absolutely kept her pledge not to take corporate PAC money,” said Adam Bozzi, the group’s vice president for communications.

End Citizens United has given Spanberger an A+ rating. “There’s dark money and corporate money all through politics,” Bozzi said. “Abigail Spanberger is actually one of the people who’s fighting it.”

Spanberger campaign manager Sam Signori said, “Rep. Spanberger does not accept corporate PAC money, period. We welcome you to review our FEC filings to confirm that Rep. Spanberger does not accept corporate PAC contributions.”

Sarah Bryner, research director for the Center for Responsive Politics, told PolitiFact in 2020 that it’s all but impossible for candidates to fully wall out corporate money. "If you need money to run a political campaign, unless you’re independently wealthy, you’re getting money from people,” she said. “And most people work for corporations."

Our ruling 

Spanberger said, “I don’t accept a dime of corporate money.”

She’s raised $5.5 million for this fall’s campaign — none directly from corporate PACs. A 3.4% portion of that money is from leadership PACs that do accept money from corporate PACs among other sources. In other words, Spanberger receives a small amount of corporate PAC money indirectly.

Realizing that it may be impossible to block all traces of corporate money from a successful congressional campaign, we rate Spanberger’s statement Mostly True.

Sources

Abigail Spanberger, tweet, Sept. 2, 2022
PolitiFact Virginia, “Spanberger's no-corporate-PAC pledge needs a 2.6% elaboration,” Aug. 19, 2020
Federal Election Commission, Spanberger campaign finance filings, Jan. 1, 2021 - June 30, 2022
FEC, Forward Together PAC filings, Jan. 1, 2020 - June 30, 2022
Open Secrets, leadership PAC contributions, Jan. 1, 2021 - June 30, 2022
End Citizens United, Spanburger’s report card, accessed Sept. 9, 2022
Interview with Adam Bozzi, vice president for communications, End Citizens United, Sept. 12, 2022
Vpap.org, Virginia 7th Congressional District, accessd Sept. 12, 2022
Email from Justin Chermol, press secretary for Spanberger’s campaign, Sept. 12, 2022
Statement from Sam Signori, Spaberger’s campaign manager, Sept. 12, 2022