Thursday, July 23, 2009

Virginia State’s Attorney Ponders Delegates Campaign Finances

Delegate Onzlee Ware

Delegate Onzlee Ware

THE ROANOKE STAR-SENTINEL (July 24): Scrutiny of incumbent Delegate Onzlee Ware’s (D-11) campaign expenditures continues at the Virginia State Board of Elections (SBE) in Richmond. A hearing was scheduled for July 10 but has been postponed to a date yet to be determined.

According to James Alcorn, the Policy Advisor with the SBE, James Hopper Senior Attorney General acts as advisor to the SBE. An issue by issue analysis of relevant facts regarding Ware’s campaign finances was sent to Hopper. Alcorn’s July 5 email obtained by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) revealed that a letter was sent to the State’s Attorney’s office with instructions that it contain “all the issues, even if the recommendation is that the issue is outside of our authority.” The letter itself is exempt from FOI due to the attorney/client privilege.

Questions arose when Mark Powell, campaign manager for primary opponent Martin Jeffrey submitted a complaint to the SBE in a letter dated May 19.

The June 9th primary results were heavily in Delegate Ware’s favor but the scrutiny of his campaign finances did not end there. The State Board of Elections Campaign Finance Manager, David Allen in a June 10 certified letter identifying Powell’s complaints asked Ware for an explanation of the expenditures that were listed as “reimbursement.” Allen pointed to the campaign finance law that states “In no case should the treasurer enter simply “reimbursement” in the item or service column.” Allen also asked Ware for the missing addresses for the expenditures. In one instance a reimbursement to “cash” needed to be broken down to include the names and addresses for the lump sum expenditure. The most recent filing ending in June again has an item under the column “Person or Company Paid” as “Cash Withdrawal” with a bank address in the amount of $1300 for “flushers” and poll workers. This is the same issue Ware was asked to correct in a previous filing.

In several “reimbursement” instances to himself the amount reimbursed was in whole numbers. Allen stated that the number of reimbursements in rounded amounts of $300 and $500 was suspicious. There was an unreported expenditure that Allen was waiting to see if it appeared on his amendment.

Ware had until June 22 to file amendments along with receipts. Ware has hired Chris Piper former head of the state board’s campaign finance division now a political reports analyst at the Washington, DC law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP. In a July 2 email Lawrence Noble an attorney with the law firm was questioning the authority of the SBE and its process of handling complaints. At the same time the campaign items in question were continuing resolution.

Complaints to the SBE need to be received 21 days after the filing deadline to qualify for an amendment but Ware has amended his filing for full-year 2009. All amendments have been filed and receipts received and reviewed for 2009. The State’s Attorney is continuing his review and will communicate his findings for the next Board of Elections meeting. Whether the State’s Attorney will recommend investigation remains to be seen. The SBE staff hope the conclusion brings clarity to the “gray areas” they struggle with now.

Allen complains they are understaffed and “gray areas” in campaign finance law make interpretation difficult. One example he gave as a “gray area” was the definition of “personal use” of campaign funds. Ware has used his campaign funds for the Juneteenth celebration paying TAP and a Juneteenth coordinator from his campaign funds. Ware told Allen he planned to repay his campaign fund with the proceeds from the event. In addition $300application in December 2008 for 501(3)(c) status for Juneteenth was filed using campaign funds.

Both candidates for Virginia Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli and Steve Shannon, confirmed Allen’s assertion that “disclosure” is the means by which voters can judge candidates use of campaign funds. Cuccinelli said that the Attorney General should be consulted for any “gray areas.”

The State Board of Elections has a website for citizens to look up their representative’s contributors and expenditures at www.sbe.virginia.gov. The Virginia Public Access Project at www.vpap.org/ is another source. It is a non-profit group that sheds light on how money plays a role in Virginia politics.

It’s all about disclosure says Allen and Alcorn. According to Allen this is where the media does its part in informing the public. He gave an example of an individual that may say “I like what Onzlee Ware has to say.” Then they go online to see how he spent his money and might say, “well on the other hand I don’t know if I want to contribute any money to him.”

Ware plans to introduce a bill in the next session of the General Assembly that would require bank statements and receipts be remitted a month following the filing deadline.

The Roanoke Star-Sentinel – by Valerie Garner Online Friday

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Election 2009, Politics, State Politics

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