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Virginia GOP governor nominee helped fund anti-vaccine candidates

Glenn Youngkin’s Virginia Wins PAC gave money to a handful of GOP politicians and hopefuls who cast doubt on COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine mandates.

By Emily Singer - August 19, 2021
Glenn Youngkin

Virginia’s Republican nominee for governor has donated $16,500 to GOP state lawmakers and candidates for the Virginia Legislature who have spread anti-vaccine messaging or fought against vaccine requirements intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to campaign finance records.

The funds came from Youngkin’s Virginia Wins PAC, which he launched in March with the goal of “electing Republicans up and down the ballot across Virginia in 2021 and future elections.” Youngkin put $400,000 into the PAC, which to date has distributed nearly $150,000 to electing state legislative candidates, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks money in state politics.

Of the money the PAC gave to Republican state legislative candidates, $16,500 went to six GOP state lawmakers or candidates running for the Legislature who have either lied about the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines, or joined in on the growing chorus of Republicans who are against vaccination mandates. As the vaccination rate slows, experts say those mandates help end the pandemic and the massive strain it has put on the American health care system.

Among the candidates who have received money from Youngkin’s PAC is Tim Anderson, the GOP nominee for the House of Delegates district in Virginia Beach. According to the financial disclosures, Virginia Wins gave $1,500 to “Friends of Tim Anderson.”

In a Facebook video back in May, Anderson used a literal flamethrower to burn what he described as “Democrats radical agenda,” which he said includes “vaccine passports” and “mandatory vaccination for kids in schools.” While he’s vaccinated himself, Anderson has said getting the COVID-19 vaccine was a “personal decision,” and said he’d fight any vaccination requirements in court.

Youngkin’s PAC also gave $3,000 to GOP House of Delegates nominee Scott Pio, who falsely said the flu is deadlier than COVID-19, and questioned the need to get the COVID-19 vaccination.

In February, Pio tweeted, “It doesn’t matter how much it spreads. We all will get it whether by vaccine or by another person. What matters is the ability to recover. To not die. I thought democrats believed in science? . 1% will die. Not even 1% of people on contract it will die.”

Pio’s claim is not based in reality. Data shows the vast majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations are unvaccinated patients, with states like Alabama, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the entire United States, running out of Intensive Care Unit beds to treat not only COVID-19 patients but also those who come in with other life-threatening emergencies and illnesses.

Youngkin’s PAC also gave $3,000 to state Del. Michael Webert. In an August 2020 Facebook post, Webert lamented a Democratic vote striking religious exemptions for vaccines during public health emergencies, saying in a comment beneath the post, “It’s not about science. It’s about the freedom of religion.” In a separate comment, he suggested, “some years the flu vaccine works in some years it doesn’t.”

Three other Republican delegates — Ronnie Campbell, Matt Fariss, and Carrie Coyner — each received $3,000.

In July, the three lawmakers signed a letter along with other GOP state lawmakers, including right-wing conspiracy theorist Amanda Chase, that said they oppose the “mandatory experimental inoculation of students.” The letter was in response to a number of colleges and universities in the state announcing that they were requiring students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in order to return to school.

Youngkin’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the donations.

Youngkin himself has made controversial statements about the pandemic. He has praised the leadership of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is trying to penalize local school officials who impose mask requirements, as well as businesses that require customers to be vaccinated. Florida is currently experiencing the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the country, according to data from the New York Times.

Polling shows vaccine requirements are broadly popular. A Morning Consult survey from July found that 56% of adults support vaccine requirements from employers. And a Gallup poll earlier in August found 60% of those surveyed supported vaccine requirements for students.

Youngkin is facing off with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe in November. McAuliffe is seeking a comeback bid, having served from 2014 to 2018, when he left in accordance with Virginia’s one-term limit law.

Polling shows McAuliffe with a small but steady lead in the state, which has trended more Democratic in recent years, culminating with President Joe Biden’s 10-point victory in November 2020.

Youngkin is not only seeking to win back the Virginia gubernatorial mansion for Republicans for the first time since 2014, but he’s also looking to help the GOP win back control of the Legislature. During Trump’s tenure, Republicans in Virginia lost both the state House of Delegates and the state Senate, giving Democrats unified control of the state for the first time since 1993.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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