Favola Drops Advanced Towing as State Senate Race Continues

Candidates running for the Virginia State Senate this year have raised hundreds of thousands along the campaign trail — but not from Arlington’s Advanced Towing.

None of the four candidates running for Richmond accepted money from the controversial towing company, according to the most recent campaign finance filings detailing fundraising between January 1 and March 31 as shared by the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP).

Incumbent candidate Barbara Favola was recently criticized by challenger Nicole Merlene for allegedly helping to loosen state towing regulations after accepting combined contributions of $7,250 over previous years from Advanced Towing, with an additional $2,500 coming from company owner John O’Neill.

The April finance reports indicate that the incumbent did not accept contributions from Advanced Towing or O’Neill during this fundraising period.

All of Arlington’s candidates are scheduled to release another set of campaign finance reports on June 3.

Residents will head to the polls on June 11 to cast their vote in the primaries. Because all Senate candidates announced so far are Democrats, the primary vote will likely choose the winner of the November 5 general election as well.

Virginians must register to vote at least 30 days before the primaries to vote, and can check in advance which polling location they should use.

Read below for more details about each candidate’s most recent campaign finances.

Sen. Adam Ebbin 

Ebbin has worked in Richmond for the past 15 years — the last seven as a state senator and eight years before that as a state delegate. He told ARLnow that this year his biggest wins in the capitol include legislation on green energy programs and helping colleges offer technical and dual-enrollment options.

Ebbin is running for re-election unopposed in the Democratic primary and currently faces no challengers from any other party.

He started with $101,534 in campaign funds on January 1, according to VPAP’s campaign finance reports. After fundraising $26,190 and spending $12,522, Ebbin reportedly ended the first quarter with $115,201 in funds for the campaign trail.

Ebbin’s campaign accepted 70 contributions during the reported funding period, with the majority of them (37 donors) giving the campaign $100 or less.

His top donation came from Political Action Committee (PAC) Win Virginia ($5,000), which announced this year it was training and funding Democratic candidates to flip the statehouse blue.

Ebbin also accepted $2,500 from an individual named George Valanos who runs The Midland Companies, according to VPAP, and who has donated a combined $4,000 to Ebbin’s campaigns since 2015.

Other notable donors include:

  • Arlington’s former Resident Ombudsman of Constituent Services Robert Sharpe ($250)
  • Former Republican-turned-Independent D.C. Councilmember David Catania ($1,000)
  • The Virginia Trial Lawyers Association  ($1,000), which has donated a combined $3,000 to Ebbin’s campaigns since 2011.

Ebbin did not respond to requests for comment for more information on his campaign contributions in time for publication.

Ebbin’s run for re-election has been endorsed by the Victory Fund; the KML Regional Carpenters Union; and Fairfax County Firefighters & Paramedics IAFF 2068, which donated $500 to his campaign.

Sen. Barbara Favola

Favola has served in the Senate since 2011 and sat on the Arlington County Board for 14 years before that. She previously told ARLnow her top accomplishments in Richmond this year include passing bills that aim to extend child care subsidies and prevent human trafficking.

This year, Favola faces a primary challenger in candidate Nicole Merlene, a former Arlington Civic Federation leader and local policy director.

Favola’s campaign for re-election started out in January with $184,975 in cash and ended with $211,253 in March, after fundraising $63,995 and spending $37,716. This was the largest amount fundraised among the four candidates currently vying for the state Senate.

Of the 81 total contributions VPAP lists that were made to Favola’s campaign during the first quarter of 2019, about half were cash contributions of $100 or less — the most of any of the four state campaigns.

Her highest donation was $10,000 from Gov. Ralph Northam’s PAC, The Way Ahead. Some state Republicans have called for Democrats to return the PAC’s money in light of their calling the governor to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page — a call Favola also made.

Other notable contributions to Favola’s campaign during the first quarter include:

  • $8,000 in combined contributions from The Virginia Beverage Association, Virginia Wine Wholesalers PAC, and Virginia Imports Ltd. The same group also donated $5,500 to Del. Alfonso Lopez’s campaign.
  • The Democratic Party of Virginia, which donated “mail production/postage” worth $8,710 to Favola’s campaign.
  • $500 from highway toll operator Transurban USA Inc., which also donated $250 to Dels. Rip Sullivan and Patrick Hope’s campaigns.

Favola did not respond to requests for comment for more information on her campaign contributions.

Favola’s campaign has been endorsed by fellow senators Ebbin and Janet Howell, as well as Arlington School Board Member Barbara Kanninen. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers also endorsed her campaign and donated $1,000.

Candidate Nicole Merlene

Merlene is vying for Favola’s seat in Richmond, promising “bold action” to address climate change, affordable housing, and transportation needs. Previously, she served on the Arlington County Civic Federation and held roles within the Arlington Young Democrats and the county’s Economic Development Commission.

Her campaign kicked off with no money in January but raised ($20,936) by the beginning of April. Between January and March, she reported spending $13,560 which left her with $7,375 — the smallest of the four candidates.

However, Merlene’s campaign is also the only one among the four candidates to have accepted only contributions from individuals, and many of them small dollar amounts. Of the total 249 contributions to her campaign listed on VPAP, 244 of them were donations of $100 or less.

“I will not be taking funds from utilities such as Dominion or Washington Gas, major area employers such as Amazon, or corporate PACs,” Merlene told ARLnow in an email. “The reason for making this decision is for objectivity in decision making as they will continue to be important partners in moving our economy forward in a way that works best for those that live and work in 31st District.”

Her biggest contribution ($5,000) comes from herself.

“I will always put my money where my mouth is,” Merlene said of the donation. “It might not be a lot, but it is what I needed to get my campaign started and we’ve taken off significantly with an impressive and diverse grassroots donor base since.”

Her next three donors were:

  • Daniel Hughes, who donated $1,030 and who Merlene said was a friend and fellow volunteer at the Knights of Columbus
  • A donation from Arlington-based venture capitalist Nicholas Jordan ($1,000)
  • $1,000 from Chris Pappas, head of Rockville-based masonry company Telligent Masonry LLC

Merlene’s campaign has been endorsed by the Progressive Virginia Project and Our Revolution Northern Virginia. She told ARLnow that several individuals have also endorsed her campaign, including:

  • Former Democratic Party Chair and ARLnow columnist Peter Rousselot
  • Ron Haddox, chair of the Civic Federation Legislative Committee and president of the Columbia Heights Civic Association
  • Scott Parker, co-owner of Don Tito’s, the G.O.A.T, BASH Boxing, and others
  • Stan Karson, president of the Radnor/Fort Myer Heights Civic Association
  • Ryan Croft, TransitScreen founder

Sen. Janet Howell

Howell was first elected to the Senate in 1992 and currently faces no challenges to her bid for re-election this year.

A member of the Senate Finance Committee, Howell told ARLnow her biggest accomplishments during this past legislative session include funding foster care system improvements and teacher pay increases.

Despite facing no challengers, Howell’s campaign has amassed a $273,141 war chest, though much of it was raised prior to this funding period. Between January and March, the senator only raised $8,635 and spent $2,174.

Of the 13 contributions made to the incumbent’s campaign this year, only one was from an individual — Joyce E. Derrick, who donated $300.

Howell did not respond to requests for comment.

Other contributions include $1,000 from Facebook and $1,500 from the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). Her top donor was the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, which chipped in $2,500.