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Longtime area donor injects $150K into local races

Longtime area donor injects $150K into local races

Sonjia Smith

Sonjia Smith

Big-time Democratic donor Sonjia Smith has injected nearly $150,000 into this year’s local elections, primarily to support a primary challenger to Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville.

Smith contributed $100,000 to Sally Hudson, a University of Virginia professor seeking to oust the former House of Delegates minority leader, according to finance reports released this week covering activity from July 1, 2018 to Dec. 31, 2018.

Smith, who has previously donated to Toscano’s campaign, is also backing Sena Magill for Charlottesville City Council and Chief Deputy Chan Bryant for Albemarle County sheriff.

Her contribution puts Bryant, who hasn’t formally announced a campaign, ahead in fundraising over Lt. Mike Wagner, who has formed a committee to seek the office as a Republican but also hasn’t announced a campaign.

Smith couldn’t be reached for comment. Magill did not return a call.

"We're proud of the work we've done in the months since we've launched this campaign and we're thankful for Sonjia's support," Hudson said.

Democrat Jim Hingeley, who is challenging incumbent Republican Robert Tracci for Albemarle commonwealth’s attorney, didn’t directly receive any funds from Smith, but is outraising his opponent tenfold.

Smith donates consistently to local, state and federal Democratic candidates, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

She donated $10,000 to Magill, only her second contribution to Charlottesville City Council. In 2017, she provided nearly half of Mayor Nikuyah Walker’s successful campaign as an independent with another $10,000 donation.

She also donated $500,000 to former Congressman Tom Perriello’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2017. He lost the nomination to Gov. Ralph Northam.

Smith has a history of backing winners locally. She contributed to the campaigns of all but one sitting member of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, the previous supervisors for the Rio and Scottsville districts and Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania. In 2018, she provided contributions to Democratic Dels. Danica Roem, Debra Rodman and Sam Rasoul.

In the past decade, Smith’s choice on a local level has come up short only twice, both times on the Board of Supervisors. She backed David Slutzky’s re-election bid in 2009 and Cynthia Neff’s challenge to then-incumbent Republican Kenneth Boyd in 2011.

Toscano v. Hudson

Smith’s donation has allowed Hudson to nearly match Toscano’s fundraising in the five-month reporting period.

Hudson, who announced her candidacy in early December, had $131,000 in funds to start the year. She raised $134,000 in the reporting period and spent about $3,000.

Toscano has about $272,000 and raised about $177,000.

Toscano is one of the most powerful Democrats in Richmond. First elected in 2005, he represents the 57th District, which covers Charlottesville and surrounding parts of Albemarle County, and was minority leader from 2011 to 2018.

Other than Smith’s donation, most of Hudson’s contributors are college professors, many of whom do not live in Charlottesville. Some of the colleges represented include the University of California at Berkeley, Harvard University, Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she earned a doctorate in economics.

Hudson also received $1,000 from Dede Smith, a former City Councilor and member of the Charlottesville School Board.

Most of Toscano’s money comes from political action committees

Toscano, who serves on the House Commerce and Labor Committee, received several donations from health care companies or related political action committees, including $2,000 from Anthem, and $1,000 each from Aetna and CareFirst.

Toscano also received large contributions from several corporations, including $2,500 from American Electric, and $1,000 each from Amazon, Pfizer and Charles Rotgin, CEO of Great Eastern Management Co.

A few politicians also donated to Toscano, including $250 from current Virginia Solicitor General Toby Heytens and $200 each from former Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman and Jane Dittmar, a former congressional candidate and Toscano staffer.

Toscano spent about $50,000 in the reporting period and has $272,000 remaining.

Several area delegates and at least one senator have challengers announced this year, but not all filed financial reports.

All members of the General Assembly are prohibited by state law from accepting campaign contributions while in session. This year’s session ends on Feb. 23 and the next reporting deadline is March 31.

The Democratic primary is scheduled for June 11.

Charlottesville City Council

Smith’s contribution put Magill’s campaign coffers at more than $13,000 in her run for Charlottesville City Council.

Magill and incumbent Councilor Wes Bellamy were the only candidates to file reports this week because their candidate committees were active in 2018.

The terms of Democrats Mike Signer, Kathy Galvin and Bellamy are expiring this year, but none have announced re-election plans.

Magill also received $500 from her husband, Tyler, $350 from stay-at-home mom Jennifer Robinson and $200 from Brenda Castaneda, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Justice Center.

Magill spent $1,636, mostly to set up campaign infrastructure and announce her candidacy. She has $11,723 remaining in her campaign war chest.

The $13,360 that Magill raised is more than half the $26,000 that Walker raised and about a third of the $44,000 that Councilor Heather Hill raised in 2017.

Bellamy reported no activity and has $120.05.

The campaign committees of Signer and Galvin are no longer active, according to VPAP.

In the 2015 election, Signer raised $54,000, Bellamy had $28,000 and Galvin raised $24,000.

Magill will compete with Lloyd Snook, Brian Pinkston and Michael Payne for the Democratic nomination for the three council seats.

Don Gathers announced he will run as a Democrat, but delayed his campaign last week, citing health reasons.

John Edward Hall and Paul Long are gathering signatures to run as independents.

No other candidates filed a report in the City Council election this week.

Progressives for Cville, the political action committee formed to support Payne and Gathers, reported $595.28.

Albemarle County

Smith also contributed $5,000 to Bryant, who has formed a committee to run for Albemarle County sheriff.

Bryant received $5,000 from Mark Gorlinsky of Earlysville. She ended 2018 with $10,200.

Smith’s contribution to Bryant is more than the total $4,136 that Wagner had at the end of the reporting period, in which he received $700.

Although neither has officially declared their candidacy, they would be seeking to replace Republican Sheriff Chip Harding, who is stepping down after 12 years in the post. Harding has told local media that he will endorse Bryant.

The Democratic candidate for county commonwealth’s attorney is outraising the Republican incumbent tenfold.

Hingeley raised $10,260 in the reporting period and finished with $8,204. He received $9,635 from the campaign committee formed by Kenneth Andrew Sneathern to run as a Democrat for the office.

Sneathern’s committee received a $20,000 donation from Smith in July and $1,000 from Jonathan Stevens in late August.

The committee then spent nearly half of the funds setting up a campaign before donating the rest of its money to Hingeley in November. Sneathern didn’t return a call for comment.

Tracci received no contributions and spent no money. He had $1,457 at the end of the year.

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City Hall reporter

Nolan Stout is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7274,, or @TheNolanStout on Twitter and Facebook.

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