Smith gubernatorial campaign breaks small donations record


Douglas Harding

Gubernatorial candidate Stephen Smith interacts with West Virginia Can’t Wait volunteers during statewide meeting Sept. 21 in Hurricane, West Virginia.

After compiling an individual donor list large enough to crash the West Virginia secretary of state’s finance filing software last quarter, Stephen Smith’s gubernatorial campaign at the head of the West Virginia Can’t Wait movement accomplished an unprecedented fundraising feat again this quarter, without the help of corporate cash.

According to a recent press release, Smith’s campaign has collected, more than a year before Election Day, more small donations than any past or present candidate for West Virginia governor on record.

“The only way we get a government of the people is to have campaigns funded by the people,” Smith said. “This is a testament to the excitement brewing at the 124 town halls we’ve hosted so far, as well as the day-to-day efforts of our 96 county and constituency teams.”

This quarter, the Smith campaign has reportedly received 4,397 donations of less than $250 each, providing a contrast to traditional big money fundraising common throughout state and national politics.

According to the press release, the campaign has garnered donations from more than 2,400 individual donors. Since the campaign’s launch last year, it has collected an average of 11 donations every day.

“Hundreds and hundreds of West Virginians are doing the work right now to help this campaign grow, to help us win a West Virginia that works for all of us,” Smith said.

Having collected more than $450,000 since launching, Smith’s campaign has raised more money throughout the race than any other gubernatorial campaign in the state. Gov. Jim Justice has reportedly raised just over $71,000 while Woody Thrasher has raised roughly $290,000. Justice and Thrasher, however, have each contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars toward their own campaigns, Justice approximately $325,000 and Thrasher more than $658,000. Last gubernatorial election, Justice spent upward of four million dollars funding his own campaign.

After collecting just 13 small donations last fundraising quarter, in the most recent quarter, Justice’s campaign collected zero. Thrasher, meanwhile, collected 51 small donations this quarter, improving upon his eight in the last quarter.

“We don’t think the governor’s office should be for sale,” Katey Lauer, Smith’s campaign manager, said. “That’s one more reason we’re taking on millionaires and billionaires like Thrasher and Justice who aim to buy the governorship.”

Lauer said West Virginian voters are aware of the corrupting influence of big money in politics and are desperate for real and drastic changes to politics-as-usual.

“This is not new,” Lauer said. “It’s how good ol’ boys club politics works: rich candidates throw millions into a race, buy an election and then promote their own interests in office. West Virginians are right to feel that government doesn’t serve us. When candidates self-fund, it doesn’t.”

One of the Smith campaign’s main methods of achieving such fundraising feats has been to engage West Virginians who had previously become disinterested in and lost faith in the political process, Smith campaign finance director Johnna Bailey, said.

“When you run a campaign that’s for something, that’s about tapping into our people’s smarts and creativity and hard work, people want to be a part of that,” Bailey said. “I’m a seventh-generation West Virginian, and this is my first time getting involved in politics. There are thousands of other folks just like me, and they’re starting to donate to their first ever campaign—this one.”

Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected].