GOP Delegate pushes vaccine misinfo

Also inside: new cumulative spending tracking

Welcome to FWIW Virginia, where we analyze digital spending trends on both sides of the aisle in the 2021 Virginia statewide and legislative elections. Each week, we look at how campaigns are investing in digital engagement and the online tactics they use to reach voters across the Commonwealth. Was this email forwarded to you? Click here to subscribe. 

Like the rest of the country, COVID-19 cases in Virginia have continued to decline as more and more Virginians get vaccinated to protect themselves and their communities. As of publication, over 60% of adult Virginians are now fully vaccinated and 70% have received at least one dose, but not everyone in Virginia politics is happy about the rollout of these life-saving vaccines.

In this week’s edition of FWIW Virginia, we take a look at one GOP Delegate’s vaccine misinformation campaign, but first… 

2021 by the Numbers

Now that the primaries have wrapped, we’ll be publishing cumulative and weekly spending data in competitive elections for the House of Delegates and statewide offices.

FWIW, here are the top 10 spenders on Facebook in Virginia last week.

And here’s how digital ad spending stacked up this week in Virginia’s statewide races.

We’ve also started cumulative digital ad spending tracking across the state, including spending from candidates for statewide offices, competitive or potentially competitive Delegate races (any race under a 15 point margin in 2019), and partisan outside groups with spending specifically targeted at Virginia elections.

While Democratic statewide candidates have been slightly outspent on Facebook + Google by Republican Gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin since their June 8th primary, the small spending advantage they’ve opened up in digital ad spending mostly comes from the group Emerging American Majorities (first covered in last week’s edition), which spent over $13,000 on Facebook ads on behalf of incumbent Democratic delegates this week.

Meanwhile, we haven’t seen much spending from candidates for the House of Delegates yet, although a handful of Republicans have started spending modest sums on Facebook ads to build for events + acquire potential donors. 

Some of the spending from GOP candidates, however, might cause more trouble than it’s worth.

Pushing Vaccine Misinformation

Del. Dave LaRock (HD 33, Loudoun County) is no stranger to controversy - he, along with two other GOP Delegates, participated in the January 6th “Stop the Steal” rally in DC and was stripped of his committee assignment after using the term “colored community.” Now, LaRock is stirring up new controversy by running Facebook ads encouraging college students to forgo vaccinations when returning to campus, instead trying to claim a medical or religious exemption rather than receive a vaccine that protects them and their community. 

LaRock’s ads link back to his website, which is chock full of vaccine misinformation. Here are some of the highlights:

LaRock, oddly enough, refuses to even acknowledge that the highly effective mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines are even vaccines at all, claiming that they’re just “a chemical mixture” (For the record, the vaccines are completely safe, and here’s a MIT article breaking down what’s in the Pfizer vaccine).

The craziness doesn’t end there, with LaRock claiming that “high-risk time” for transmission has passed, ignoring the new Delta variant that is more contagious + possibly more deadly than previous variants, as well as the fact that the decline in COVID-19 cases in the DMV and across the United States has coincided with the mass rollout of vaccines. His website also questions the safety of the vaccines, claiming that they are “experimental” despite all three vaccines approved in the U.S. being authorized by the FDA after being “thoroughly tested and found to be safe and effective in preventing severe COVID-19.” 

Not only is LaRock’s blatant vaccine misinformation dangerous and irresponsible, it’s also self-serving. The same page features an explicit ask for campaign donations based on the fact that his opponent, Paul Siker, held a campaign kickoff with AG Mark Herring, whose office issued an advisory opinion supporting schools requiring vaccination for in-person attendance.

Luckily, this grossly irresponsible + self-serving misinformation campaign has a fairly minimal amount of spending behind it, with LaRock’s page spending just $60 over the past week. However, even a minimal amount of spending can reach thousands of voters on Facebook, and with the ad coming from an established community figure, that message could gain steam among certain audiences.

The ad campaign may also violate Facebook’s policy on COVID-19 and vaccine content, which prohibits “content coordinating interference with the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine” and “content calling to action, advocating, or promoting that others not get the COVID-19 vaccine.” However, as of publication, the ad campaign remains live on Facebook.

Thanks for reading this week’s FWIW Virginia! We’re so excited to be back following these critical elections in the Commonwealth. If you enjoy reading this type of content each week, we hope you’ll support our work by clicking share and tweeting out this newsletter below! As always, email us with ideas of what you’d like us to dive into next.

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