RESTON, VA — Among the many campaign donations made during recent legislative races, one from NOVABizPAC, the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee, to the southwestern Virginia lawmaker who introduced a casino bill has come to light.
NOVABizPAC contributed $500 on May 23 to the campaign of Del. Wren Williams (R-Stuart), according to campaign finance reports filed with the State Board of Elections. The NOVABizPAC lobbyist who authorized the donation was Nick Clemente, the son of Christopher Clemente, CEO of Comstock Companies. Patch reported in September that Comstock was seeking to build a casino at or near the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station.
In order for Comstock to be able to do that, the Virginia General Assembly needed to pass legislation that would allow the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to put a referendum on the ballot, so that voters could decide if they wanted a casino.
Find out what's happening in Restonwith free, real-time updates from Patch.
In January, Williams and State Sen. Dave Marsden (D-Burke) introduced nearly identical bills (HB 2499/SB 1523) that, if approved, would’ve given the board of supervisors that power.
On May 30, Williams reported receiving $500 from the chamber and a $2,500 contribution from Christopher Clemente, according to campaign finance filings. This brought the total amount of money Christopher Clemente contributed to Williams’ 2023 campaign to $12,500. That money was part of the $29,525 in contributions 14 former and current Comstock employees made to Williams’ between Jan. 1 and May 30.
Find out what's happening in Restonwith free, real-time updates from Patch.
Williams Donated $15K To Nick Clemente’s 2021 Campaign
One of the unanswered questions surrounding the efforts to put a casino somewhere on Metro’s Silver Line in Fairfax County was what motivated Williams, who represented a district in southwestern Virginia near the North Carolina border, to introduce HB 2499 in January.
Marsden told the Washington Business Journal at the time that he was approached by developers with properties that would fit the type of development being proposed. In September, he told Patch that he didn’t know anything about the referendum bill that Williams introduced in the House of Delegates.
Read all of Patch’s reporting on the proposed casino at the Wiehle-Reston East Station at Silver Line Casino.
Patch reached out to Williams several times over the last two months with questions about his legislation, but no reply was ever received.
While Williams’ motivation remains unclear, one link between the Clemente family and the Virginia lawmaker can be traced back to the 2021 legislative campaign, when Nick Clemente was a House of Delegates candidate. Running as a Republican, he faced incumbent Democrat Wendy Gooditis for the 10th District seat.
About a week before the Nov. 2, 2021 election, Williams posted photos on his X (formerly Twitter) account showing him canvassing the 10th District with Nick Clemente.
“It was a fun time knocking doors yesterday in the beautiful fall weather for Nick Clemente in Northern Virginia,” Williams said, in an Oct. 24, 2021 post on X. “We had great conversations with many voters who hadn’t been following the election and weren’t going to vote, or who feel forgotten by the Democrat Party.”
It was a fun time knocking doors yesterday in the beautiful fall weather for Nick Clemente in Northern Virginia. We had great conversations with many voters who hadn’t been following the election and weren’t going to vote, or who feel forgotten by the Democrat party … (1/2) pic.twitter.com/n6JF42Ftn8
— Wren Williams (@WrenWilliamsVA) October 24, 2021
Williams also posted a video on his Facebook page the same day, calling on voters in Loudoun County, Frederick County, and Winchester to support Nick Clemente on election day.
“This area is obviously the epicenter, the hotbed of politics in Virginia this year with all the education, the CRT [critical race theory] and the transgender sexual assault issues, things like that,” Williams said. “Nick has been an absolute champion of making sure that our students are safe and protected.”
Williams’ support for the fellow Republican was not limited to door knocking and social media posts. On Oct. 26, 2021, Williams donated $15,000 to the Nick Clemente for Delegate Committee, according to campaign finance reports filed with the State Board of Elections. This was in addition to a $500 contribution that Williams made to the campaign on Sept. 30, 2021.
In the 2021 election, Nick Clemente received a total of $1,808,644 in contributions — including $38,000 from his father — and spent $1,791,606, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Ultimately, Gooditis defeated her Republican opponent by less than 1,00o votes. In addition, she out-raised ($3,098,600) and outspent ($3,095,578) him as well.
Northern Virginia Chamber Of Commerce Responds
Following the election, Nick Clemente was appointed to the Leesburg Planning Commission, serving just one year, according to Loudoun Now.
Then in September 2022, he was hired as the chamber’s vice-president of government relations, acting as the group’s paid representative in Richmond during the 2023 general assembly session, according to the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisor Council.
In light of the various contributions and Williams’ support of Nick Clemente’s 2021 campaign, Patch emailed the following questions to chamber President and CEO Julie Coons on Nov. 20:
Coons responded later that same day with the chamber’s official statement:
“The Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce (Chamber) supports a wide range of issues and projects that promote economic growth for our Region and the Commonwealth, transparently shares those issues publicly in an annual Legislative Agenda and established the Northern Virginia Business Political Action Committee (NOVABizPAC) in 2002 to support Virginia legislators and policymakers whochampion a pro-business agenda. NOVABizPAC is administered by a Board of Trustees composed exclusively of members of the Northern Virginia Chamber and those duly elected members determine the contributions to candidates by voting on these issues while the vice president of government relations is not a voting member of the NOVABizPAC.”
Nick Clemente has an additional connection to Williams. They are both members of the advisory board of Bold Dominion, a Republican Party political action committee.
Founded in 2022 by a group of young donors, former candidates for office, and political consultants, as well as state and local elected officials, Bold Dominion’s goal is to raise money and make contributions to candidates running in targeted races across Virginia, according to the PAC’s website.
Since its founding, Bold Dominion has raised a total of $11,135 in contributions. In October, the PAC donated $1,750 each to four Republicans running in the 2023 election cycle: Carrie Coyner, Emily Brewer, Siobhan Dunnavant, and Kim Taylor, according to the state board of elections.
Once all of the votes were counted, Coyner and Taylor were elected to the house of delegates and Brewer won her race for the District 82 seat in the state senate. Dunnavant was defeated in her bid for the District 16 senate seat.
Patch acknowledges that Comstock, its employees, family members and others have a right to make donations to any candidate whose campaign they wish to support. The same goes for the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
Patch is reporting this publicly available information; it is not saying that Comstock, its employees, family members and others, including the chamber, did anything illegal.
Get more local news delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for free Patch newsletters and alerts.