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Out of Town PACs and High Rollers

Learn the rules that apply to Out of Town PACs and also how high rollers, and the candidates they support, think they are fooling us all.

In this blog, I will explore what laws Out of Town PACs have to comply with when they operate independently of a candidate. I will also tell the residents of Herndon how high rollers in Virginia in general are skirting donor reporting requirements and an easy way you can smoke them out. Dave Kirby has already outlined the requirements for the candidates in a separate blog.

Out of Town PACs

A PAC that operates independently of a candidate has to comply with a separate set of Virginia code sections that are much more restrictive than the laws which apply to the candidates.  Under Virginia’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Act, an “independent expenditure” is one that advocates the election, or defeat, of a clearly identified candidate and is made without the authorization of a candidate.  In other words, the candidate who benefits from the expenditure can’t coordinate with the PAC for expenditure to be truly independent.  Coordination with a candidate would require the expenditure to be listed as a donation on the candidate’s campaign report.

Any PAC that has independent expenditures of more than $200.00 in our Town election must file a report with the Fairfax County Board of Elections within 24 hours of distributing campaign literature or spending the money to pay for the campaign literature, whichever comes first.  In addition, the campaign literature distributed must have the following two statements printed on it: 

 “Paid for by [Out of Town PAC]” and “Not authorized by a candidate.”

Any PAC making telephone calls to support or oppose a candidate must disclose, during the call, the name of PAC and its Virginia State Board of Elections registration number.  Failure to do so can result in fines of up to $2,500 per occurrence. In addition, it is illegal for any PAC making telephone calls to intentionally modify the caller identification information for the purpose of misleading the recipient as to the identity of the caller.

High Rollers

Now, on to the high rollers.

In the past few years, high rollers have increasingly used third parties to mask donations.  In other words, a millionaire who doesn’t think it would benefit the candidate to be listed as the actual donor will use a third party, almost always a PAC, to funnel the donation to the candidate.  I have seen a turnaround time as quick as a couple of days between the time the third party PAC receives the money from the actual donor and the contribution to the candidate is made by the PAC.  In order to follow the money trail, you need to go to www.vpap.org.  (This website is run by an independent organization, the Virginia Public Access Project, which has provided invaluable service to the residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia.)

Go to the search box in the upper right hand corner of the website and type in the name of a candidate.  Usually several different names come up for one reason or another.  Click on the name of the candidate.  You are then taken to a page relating to the last election year, although you can choose other election years if you want.  Click on “Money In.”  The largest donors appear at the top.  Click on one of those.  You can then click on the link for the donor to find out who has given it money and when. 

Obviously, you can’t tell from the available information if there was an agreement between the millionaire and the PAC to contribute the money to a specific candidate but there’s a pretty good chance there is a tacit agreement if a PAC gets a $100,000 donation from one person (or entity) and days later donates $98,000 to a candidate.  The thing to do with the information is to either (1) confront the candidate or (2) try to interest the media. (Good luck on Option 2.)  So you can say during a question and answer session at a debate, “Mr. Nixon, were you aware that Boss Tweed gave $100,000 to the Herndon Hummingbird Society which ten minutes later gave you $98,000?”  Typically, the response from the candidate will be “No, I was not aware of that.  I presumed the donation was the result of my work on behalf of hummingbirds everywhere.” 

There is nothing illegal in all of this unless the candidate knows of the third party agreement and doesn’t report the donation properly.  However, you as an individual might make the difference in an election if you can point out an obvious ruse to hide a donation. 

In my next blog, I will examine the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and how a voluntary multi-state agreement ended up with mandatory requirements for the Town of Herndon.  I have decided to call the blog “Paved With Good Intentions.”  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Matt Genkinger April 06, 2012 at 07:30 PM
Dave, Very interesting! It appears that the New Virginia Majority received about 63% of its funding from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in 2011. I seem to recall SEIU having some serious issues with the Tea Party... http://youtu.be/cFeUhSlHiUQ Anyone who would associate with these folks should be probably reconsider...
Matt Genkinger April 07, 2012 at 10:33 AM
Herndon VOICES? I wonder who they are? An insider group, with a lot of outsider support. The Facebook page shows lots of big-time Democrats attending a March fundraiser; John Foust, Mark Herring, Janie Strauss, Jeff Barnett, AND CESAR! And all of the "slate" candidates. Must have been one heckuva good time! And lots of cash contributions, I see. VPAP shows $500 "money in" but no money spent to date. All of the photos from that event were "shared" with Herndon Voices page from the Dranesville District Democrats! http://www.facebook.com/HerndonVoices
Dave Webster April 07, 2012 at 01:22 PM
Matt, I presume the cash put into that glass jar in the photograph was not for the Herndon Voices PAC. This is from the Virginia State Board of Elections: "Common Fundraising Scenarios The Campaign Finance Disclosure Act requires that all contributions collected by individuals for a committee be accompanied by certain identifying information. Anonymous contributions are illegal. As a result of this requirement, SBE has provided some examples of fundraising scenarios to avoid: Pass the Hat In a “pass the hat” scenario, the persons in the room may already be large contributors. Thus, any additional monies contributed would have to be reported. However, the contributor’s required information is not being gathered. Further, it is likely that someone in the room could contribute more than $100. It is because of these issues that “pass the hat” fundraisers are considered illegal."
Matt Genkinger April 07, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Dave, That is good to know. I'm sure Leslie Faye Mason of McLean, VA can explain further.
Dudley Caswell April 07, 2012 at 04:01 PM
It is interesting! Just a couple of questions for clearing up perceptions: Why would they take a picture of a seemingly illegal act (putting money in a jar with no contributor identity)? And then put it on the web? Why would active Town Council members have their pictures taken attending a very partisan function when they are supposedly non-partisan? Why are we subjected to the Drainsville Supervisor (supposedly representing ALL of Herndon residents) trying to influence our Town election by supporting one 'slate' of candidates? When do the contributions from this fundraiser show up in the individual finance disclosures for each individual? And how are the contributors identified?
Bob Bruhns April 07, 2012 at 09:14 PM
I don't see any information on the website or the Facebook page that identifies any officers or directors of the organization. Maybe it is registered as a PAC, but don't most serious groups identify their leadership on their online sites and pages?
Dave Webster April 07, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Bob, If you go to vpap.org and type in Herndon Voices in the search box in the upper right hand corner you will get a report on the PAC.
Bob Bruhns April 08, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Thanks, Dave, that is good information. It appears that the address listed there for Herndon Voices is outside of the borders of the Town of Herndon. Interesting.
CriticalVoter April 08, 2012 at 11:58 PM
7:57 pm on Sunday, April 8, 2012 Interesting. I'm sure almost all the candidates have support from outside the Town's official boundaries. In 2010, Bill Tirrell, Dave Kirby, Charlie Waddell and Connie Hutchinson were all supported by The Compass, an outside group affiliated with an out of town PAC, HelpSaveHerndon, that "raised $25,000." (http://www.loudoundemocrats.org/?p=39) In addition, these candidates were also endorsed by the Help Save Loudoun PAC, receiving support and assistance from Loudoun County. Hmmmm. (http://novatownhall.com/tag/herndon/) Too bad the campaign finance ordinance wasn't passed back then, convenient, don't you think? "This is a lesson in local Republican operations in a purportedly non-partisan race. back in
CriticalVoter April 09, 2012 at 12:04 AM
And by the way, nice to see candidate Dave Webster listed on the "Red NoVa" website, asking for campaign donations at his kickoff on 3/30/12. http://rednova8.com/wordpress/?p=6096 If you don't know who Red NoVa is, they are "Red NoVA started after the 2008 elections to help bring the Republican Party’s message to Northern Virginia and to younger voters. Since then, we’ve interviewed candidates running for local and statewide office, covered numerous elections, helped Republicans get elected, given strong criticisms for Democratic policies in Northern Virginia, and served as a tool for Republican activists to interact and spread their message." Non partisan, right...
Matt Genkinger April 09, 2012 at 01:41 AM
At least that is out in the open, there Mr. Critical. Unlike the slate candidates who want to people to believe they have no allegiances - or at a minimum believe that associations with international socialist --- oops --- workers groups is an appropriate thing in a local election. I happen to blog on Red NoVa and a stones throw outside the city limits - the latter can also be said for Ms. Dorman (who at least has the courage to post by her real name), by the way. Because I commute throw Herndon - can't really get around that one - it is important for me to participate in an election that I cannot others effect. Transparency Mr. Whatever-your-name-is, that is what Mr. Webster is all about. Hope you had a Happy Easter or Passover!
CriticalVoter April 09, 2012 at 02:03 AM
Matt, Exactly which candidates have been endorsed by this so-called workers group - are you referring to the Virginia New Majority? In the last election, several but not all candidates were endorsed by the Virginia New Majority, including Jasbinder Singh. I am told he has formally approached the local Dems for their support in this election as well. I suppose this is to be applauded since 'its out in the open'? Is that the new standard? Sheila Olem doesn't seem to be hiding the fact that she is a Democrat. And since you commute through Herndon, you don't vote in Herndon, correct? I'll take your opinions with a grain of salt.
Dave Webster April 09, 2012 at 02:06 AM
I will leave it to the voters what they think of these PACs. As for me, my press release which was published on the Patch on January 25th states: "I pledge that I will refuse to accept any PAC donations to my campaign. I urge other candidates to do the same." I didn't post a request on RedNova asking for money. An invitation to my fundraiser was posted and I didn't do the posting. I think I collected $500.00 the night of the fundraiser after the costs for food were subtracted out. I have received no help on my campaign strategy. I put up all my signs myself. I designed my website, twitter, and facebook sites myself with no technical or financial assistance. I believe when the campaign finance reports are released on April 16th, they will show that I have taken in, and spent, the least amount of money of any of the candidates. I would urge everyone to take a look at those campaign finance reports when they are released.
Bill Tirrell April 09, 2012 at 02:25 AM
Hey there, CriticalVoter! I'm glad to find out now that I was endorsed in 2010 by ANYONE. I certainly neither sought nor accepted any endorsements from PACs nor any money from PACs. Remember - I was laid up at home for the 2010 election having had a knee replacement done in April of that year. However, I did get to set precedent by phoning in for the candidates' debate! While I had a website in 2010, it was pretty basic and I received (as I recall) zero e-mail inputs from it. As for the Compass - it folded, didn't it? Don't even remember seeing a copy of it. If ANYONE wants to endorse me in this election, please send your endorsement to my website www.billtirrellformayor.com so I can decide whether or not to accept the endorsement. I've specifically asked one long-time friend NOT to endorse me as the friend is a prominent political figure. I am running - and always have run - as an INDEPENDENT candidate in a NON-PARTISAN election. OBTW - CriticalVoter - if you want to send me a note via my website (with your name), I'll keep your secret and be glad to respond to your Qs.
Valerie M April 09, 2012 at 12:51 PM
Dear Critical, It would be nice if you used your real name. It might give you more credibility. It is my understanding that The Virginia New Majority will be canvassing after April 15th here in Herndon, unless they change their minds about this, everyone in Town will know who they are backing. "Sheila Olem doesn't seem to be hiding the fact that she is a Democrat." This is a nonpartisan election. Her party affiliation should not be a part of this election.
Valerie M April 09, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Critical, Thank you for pointing me to the Red Nova website. I was unfamiliar with it. The link you posted went to a rather innocuous, tiny blurb that merely directed readers to Mr. Webster's blog here on the Patch. It was not an interview.
William Campenni April 09, 2012 at 03:26 PM
Wow, HyperCriticalVoter - did you ever think of getting some facts rather than the unverifiable fictions in your comment.? You sound like non-resident Les Zidel who made the claim at a Herndon Town Council session "that he personally knows that a bag of money was dropped at the doorstep of a Council candidate' in 2006. No proof, just a claim. You too aren't the same guy, are you. And you used the website of the Loudoun Democrats as your source? Wow! Tell you what - I will give YOU $25,000 if you can prove that HelpSaveHerndon raised $25,000. As they used to say before lies became standard political discourse, put up or shut up.
William Campenni April 09, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Correct, Bpb. Herndon Voices so far has been funded mostly by a McLean major Democrat contributor, has as its treasurer an Ashburn (ex Reston) resident who is also the Treasurer of the Dranesville Area Democrats, and an officer who lives in ZIP code 20171. Their cash-in-the-bowl fundraiser for the slate was held elsewhere. These are "Herndon Voices"? Why are these people so interested in Herndon? And when are the members of "the Slate" going to come out of hiding to explain or defend the huge amount of support they are getting from non-Herndon entities like Herndon Voices, the Virginia New Majority, and the Progressive Majority?
Bob Bruhns April 09, 2012 at 04:56 PM
The Herndon Compass came under a great deal of scrutiny in 2006, and I hope it's OK if other organizations are examined as well. I wonder if it had 500 readers. People who remember 2006 will also remember that the other papers were pretty anti-Steve DeBenedittis. Look up the Times-Community editorial "The best for Herndon" from April 20, 2006. But the unknown DeBenedittis beat the incumbent O'Reilly rather handily. I think it was the Day Labor Center issue, and of course the huge town tax increase that year. Home assessments went way up that year, and the town was overspending badly, so the town tax rate could not go down nearly as much as the assessments went up - meaning that our real-dollar tax skyrocketed. I also remember one pro illegal labor candidate bringing in an Alexandria labor union to campaign for him - and then saying that the problem was that they didn't know Herndon. A big surprise there. Help Save Herndon was started by Phil Jones and Aubrey Stokes, who shortly moved into Herndon and stayed here. Phil Jones actually ran for Herndon Council in 2010. It is really not surprising that Herndon's 2006 election would have been affected by outside influences, when Herndon was the center of the national illegal labor dispute in 2005 and 2006. But the people of Herndon voted - at least 26% or so of our registered voters did, which was a lot more than usual - and now, that's all history.
Bob Bruhns April 09, 2012 at 04:56 PM
So tax and culture were the issues in 2006, and the voters decided to throw out the established, big-spending Old Guard, and bring in new leaders. These leaders worked to lower taxes and spending. The Day Labor Center was a struggle - the leaders tried to keep it, but force it to reject laborers who were not legally authorized to work here. That didn't happen, Fairfax County chose to remove funding when one Council member privately objected, and the courts decided that the existence of the Center could not justify the removal of laborers from the streets - the very justification that had been sold to us by the Old Guard in 2005. So the Center was closed, and Fairfax County, which had originally arranged funding for three such Centers, never set another Center up anywhere, to this day - demonstrating that Herndon was not the issue.
Bob Bruhns April 09, 2012 at 11:59 PM
The voters of Herndon confirmed their 2006 choice in the much more tame election of 2008, so that choice wasn't just a fluke. By 2010, things had settled down, and different candidates were elected. But illegal labor was not given carte-blanche as had been thought. A town anti-solicitation ordinance demonstrated that Herndon's new Council still did not want total abandon with regard to street-solicited labor. Some people were upset at that - see letters such as "Time to eliminate anti-immigrant laws in Herndon" from Fairfax County Times, November 2, 2010, "Herndon's solicitation ordinance sends wrong message" from Fairfax County Times, October 20, 2010, and "Time for Herndon to leave anti-immigrant past behind" from Fairfax County Times, February 1, 2011. And now, here we are in 2012. The street labor issue is pretty much history, we are looking at the Metro Area Plan, we have Downtown Development simmering on a back burner, Chesapeake Bay water quality is a Herndon issue, the Dulles Rail Phase II issue is knocking at our door, and the struggle to hold down spending is more important than ever. Let's look at the ideas, as we look at the people and organizations proposing them.
Leslie Perales Loges (Editor) April 12, 2012 at 04:36 AM
The Compass stopped operations in 2007, so those candidates couldn't have been supported by it in 2010. Though the Loudoun Democrats site does assert GOP influence in the 2006 election. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:Nj1ZdrgpRmYJ:www.connectionnewspapers.com/articleprint.asp%3Farticle%3D242199%26paper%3D66%26cat%3D104+&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

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