The University of Virginia maintains that the inclusion of the school’s Cavalier mascot alongside Gov. Glenn Youngkin in a recent advertisement funded by the Republican’s political action committee was in no way political.
“Our understanding was that this was a state government project all the way through, and that’s how we approached it,” UVa spokeswoman Bethanie Glover told The Daily Progress on Tuesday.
That is in spite of the fact that the video, posted on Youngkin’s Twitter on March 10, was funded by the Spirit of Virginia, Youngkin’s political action committee.
Such committees, also known as PACs, are organized for the purpose of raising and spending money to elect and defeat candidates.
Youngkin is limited to a single four-year term as governor of the commonwealth, but rumors have been swirling that he is preparing to launch a bid for higher office – specifically, the presidency.
“We are happy that this video created buzz,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter told The Daily Progress on Tuesday.
While she only identified the advertisement as a “fun promotional video,” she did not deny that the governor’s PAC backed the project.
In the video, the Cavalier, or Cavman, appears with mascots from five of Virginia’s public universities: James Madison University’s Duke Dog, Norfolk State University’s Spiro the Spartan, Virginia Tech’s HokieBird and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Rodney the Ram.
The advertisement, a take on the NBA commercials of the early 2000s, shows the mascots attempting to convince Youngkin to include their teams in his March Madness bracket picks.
They walk his dog, give him back massages and cheer him on as he gets coffee.
As the video ends, “PAID FOR BY SPIRIT OF VIRGINIA” appears at the bottom.
Glover said the Cavalier’s appearance in the video was made at the request of the Youngkin’s Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Progress.
“UVA’s participation in the video was the result of a request from the Secretary of Education that mascots from several schools participate in a video celebrating Virginia basketball teams that have excelled this year,” Glover said.
That request, however, neglected to mention that Youngkin’s PAC was financially backing the advertisement, according to emails obtained by Virginia Public Media.
VPM said that emails show university representatives were sent follow-up correspondence after agreeing to have their mascots appear in the advertisement in order to schedule the mascots’ trips to Capitol Square and the Executive Mansion in Richmond for the three-hour video shoot.
Glover promised that UVa was not paid for its involvement.
“To our knowledge, no financial compensation was received for this project,” Glover said.
Porter, the governor’s spokeswoman, did not immediately respond to Daily Progress inquiries regarding how much Youngkin’s PAC paid for the video.
She did say, however, that the video “did not use any taxpayer funds.”
The Spirit of Virginia PAC collected more than $7.7 million in financial contributions for Youngkin between Feb. 10, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2022.
When questioned over the ethics of UVa’s involvement in the advertisement, Glover pointed to Cavalier’s previous appearance in a 2020 higher education social media campaign.
“We were happy to promote the success of our team and others,” Glover said. “Just as we have worked with other state agencies in the past on similar projects, including this one that was produced in the early days of the pandemic.”
Glover pointed to the 2020 video organized by former Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, who collaborated with the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia to launch the statewide VA Higher Ed Together social media campaign designed to encourage students and educators who were learning and teaching in predominately virtual settings at the onset of the pandemic.
That year, UVa was one of 45 Virginia schools to lend its mascot to the state for the video titled “Virginia Mascots: Pride in YOU.”
Unlike the most recent video, no government officials appear in the 2020 campaign and there is no explicit involvement of a political action committee organized to defeat or elect a politician.
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