PAC man: Van Yahres finds another way to raise money

Here's the thing when you're running unopposed for a General Assembly seat that you've held for decades: No one wants to give you money.

Most politicians probably wouldn't mind being off the hook for the fundraising that's so integral to the elective process. Not Delegate Mitch Van Yahres. On August 15, he announced creation of the Democratic Road Back PAC. The political action committee already has raked in $40,000, and internationally acclaimed folksinger John McCutcheon has signed on for a September 5 fundraiser.

Why the desire to start a PAC when you're 76 years old and can count on coasting to reelection? Perhaps it's the changes in the political landscape Van Yahres has witnessed during his tenure in office. For generations, Democrats controlled the General Assembly and routinely elected Democrats for statewide positions. No more. The new millennium put Dems in the uncomfortable position of being the minority party. Even Charlottesville went slightly Republican in 2002 with the election its first GOP city councilor in 16 years.

"The PAC is the way back," says Van Yahres. "We're going to fight our way back."

He promises the PAC will be an ongoing effort to attract and support Democratic candidates for the General Assembly, City Council, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, and other city and county offices. "The trend in politics is on a local basis– door-to-door, more personal," he says. "It's all local."

The PAC will funnel funds, workshops, and training to Democratic candidates– and Van Yahres specifies that assistance is only for candidates nominated by the party.

He's targeting Republican delegates Rob Bell and Steve Landes who, like himself, are running unopposed. "You go to a forum, and when you're unopposed, you can spin it any way you want," says Van Yahres. "That's why we need candidates."

Bell, a new dad keen on spending time with his son, isn't at all dismayed that he doesn't have to campaign hard. And he doesn't agree that unopposed races mean voters only hear one side of an issue.

"Mitch and I go to these events, and people get to hear two sides of an issue," says Bell, citing a death penalty discussion at a recent forum as an example.

He does concede, however, "People are more energized when you have a contested race."

Bell is impressed with the $40K Van Yahres has raised so far: "Gosh, that's a lot of money."

So will local Republicans set up their own PAC? "We'll have to see if that's necessary," replies Bell. "The money is the same if it runs through the party or individual candidates."

Meanwhile, the Road Back PAC will return to traditional Democratic machine strategies such as getting out voters on Election Day. And it'll be beating the bushes to find candidates to run.

"A political party speaks through its candidates," says Van Yahres. "Only by attracting, running, and supporting quality candidates can the Democratic Party regain its voice."