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Commonwealth’s Attorney race is getting expensive as ads litigate who is a ‘real’ Democrat

Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti and her challenger, Josh Katcher (photo illustration by ARLnow)

In the race to pick the next Democratic candidate for Arlington and Falls Church’s top prosecutor, incumbent Parisa Dehghani-Tafti has topped her opponent, Josh Katcher, in fundraising.

A campaign financing report released yesterday (Monday) says she netted $356,220 in cash donations for her re-election bid from April 1-June 8. She raced ahead after falling behind Katcher in the last filing period. The Democratic primary is on June 20 and early voting started last month.

Most of the cash Dehghani-Tafti received — $295,000 — came from one progressive political action committee (PAC) founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros. She also received nearly $75,000 in in-kind donations from a handful of other liberal groups, including $45,992 from New Virginia Majority and $23,435 from Justice and Public Safety PAC.

Katcher’s largest donation this round, $15,000, comes from the Arlington Coalition of Police. He still bests his opponent when it comes to number of donors above and below $100. He also has loaned himself $30,000, whereas Dehghani-Tafti reported no loans during this period.

Fundraising has yet to reach the nearly $1 million seen ahead of the June 2019 primary, when Dehghani-Tafti bested incumbent Theo Stamos and in one filing period received $515,492 in cash and in-kind donations from a Soros-funded group.

In a statement this morning, the campaign to elect Dehghani-Tafti celebrated these donations and went after Katcher for trying to discredit them.

There are those, like our opponent, who will seek to sow distrust in these upstanding organizations, who have already aimed to diminish their right to bring together the voices of those who are normally disenfranchised, and support both democracy and Democratic values; those who utilize Republican scare tactics, demonizing the hard work of members of these American institutions.

We do not agree with our opponent. We embrace not only the right these groups have to support our campaign, but we celebrate this support, accepting these contributions of time, money, and labor by hard-working Americans who are invested that ALL people in Arlington be treated equally under the law, that ALL people can expect justice under the law, and that ALL people here can expect a safe community for their families to grow, love, and prosper.

Katcher’s campaign lambasted his opponent today for omitting the $295,000 in what it says is “dark PAC money.” His campaign manager, Ben Jones, said the following:

Over the past month, our campaign has pointed to a clear pattern of behavior by Parisa Dehghani-Tafti where she refuses to tell the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth to our community, even on the most elementary matters. Whether it is relating to information on crime statistics, how many vacancies are open in her office, how her office operates or even just an hour ago when talking about her campaign contributions, she has shown over and over again that she is incapable of transparency or even fidelity to the truth.

Jones argued that Katcher has more broad support from Democrats than his opponent, with 1,151 individual contributions in the past six months compared to the 822 contributions to Dehghani-Tafti over the last two years.

Echoes of the fundraising rhetoric can be heard in the ads for the two candidates. Some highlight their experience and high-profile endorsements while others demonstrate their Democrat bona fides and undermine those of their opponent.

In his ads, Katcher plays up his experience prosecuting cases for 11 years.

He also highlights the support he has from victims who felt mistreated by Dehghani-Tafti’s office, including the mother of Braylon Meade.

The mother of the late W-L student criticized Dehghani-Tafti for what she characterized as a lack of respect during the case, and for trying the teen who killed him in a high-speed crash as a juvenile instead of as an adult — though that is relatively rare in Arlington.

In a riff on Katcher’s motto, “Real Justice. Real Reform,” however, an ad for Dehghani-Tafti touts that “she’s showing America what real criminal justice reform looks like.”

Other ads for the incumbent highlight a four-fold increase in the number of people receiving treatment in drug court, unveiled under her predecessor, as well as the “zero low-level marijuana crimes” she has prosecuted. (Possession of recreational amounts of marijuana was legalized in Virginia in 2021, though laws permitting sales is on hold.)

These ads, which also highlight support she has from the Washington Post and elected Democrats, say her approach is why Arlington is “one of the safest cities” in America. Dehghani-Tafti’s commercials can be seen running on local cable TV and online video streamers like YouTube.

Facebook’s Ad Library says the incumbent’s campaign and a PAC have spent some $43,000 on ads, which on average have reached more women than men.

One recent ad says Katcher has a “herd” of Republican supporters who want to reverse the progress Dehghani-Tafti’s office has made.

An ad from Parisa Dehghani-Tafti saying opponent Josh Katcher is too close to Republicans (via YouTube/Parisa for Justice)

Katcher, meanwhile, has played up his longtime involvement in Democratic politics.

His other ads are generally viewed by an almost even split of men and women, mostly age 35-44, and he has spent some $8,000 on Facebook, according to the company’s Ad Library.

An ad for Josh Katcher depicts him as a smiling young Democrat (via Facebook)

Katcher critiques Dehghani-Tafti for what he says is a lack of in-court prosecutorial experience — she worked as a public defender in D.C. and for the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project before taking office.

He also alleges that she has mismanaged the office, contributing to a number of prosecutors leaving.

Other ads paid for by Josh Katcher (via Facebook)

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