Unenforced Campaign Finance Laws

I have the nerdish habit of surfing around the Virginia Public Access Project website from time to time. It’s an incredible resource, and completely funded by donations from wonks, politicos and like minded organizations. VPAP publishes campaign finance data that is publicly reported in an interface and format that is a lot friendlier than that which the State Board of Elections makes available.

(And while I’m at it, let me also promote Waldo Jaquith‘s brilliant brainchild Richmond Sunlight.)

Doing some research on VPAP, I discovered some interesting things. Like the fact that Ken Reid’s campaign is fully one-third financed (so far) by real estate interests. Or that some of Scott York’s top donors declined to provide their legally-required occupational data.


I thought that, perhaps, VPAP just had insufficient information, so I took it upon myself to give the State Board of Elections a call. Talking to the harried, but very helpful staff at the State Board of Elections was extremely illuminating. I was informed that the State Board of Elections, having seen its budget cut quite aggressively during this year’s state budget negotiations, no longer reviews campaign finance disclosures for accuracy. Indeed, when asked what recourse I, as a citizen, might have to get missing occupation information about donors who gave more than $100 (for example) I was told that I really had none.

The entire SBE budget, you see, is focused on the job of planning and executing the August primaries and November elections. And that is as it should be. Administering elections is the primary job of the SBE. Enforcing campaign finance laws is a secondary objective, and when budgets are slashed, secondary goals are often sacrificed in the process. It does beg the question, however, as to how many campaign finance shenanigans are going unnoticed in this unsupervised environment.

It also does a grave disservice to the voters, who have a right to know who is funding campaigns for offices throughout the Commonwealth. I would think that voters in Richmond, for example, might want to know if one or another candidate for School Board is receiving a lot of money from people in the charter school business. That seems, to me, to be a perfectly reasonable criteria for a voter to consider when evaluating his or her choices in November.

Perhaps even more interesting is that, so far, none of the major media who cover the Commonwealth’s elections have noticed these campaign finance discrepancies (even as they notice others) and made the same phone call to the State Board of Elections that I did this week. A local sheriff doing a favor for a major campaign contributor is definitely news, but isn’t the breakdown of the very system of full disclosure that makes such a story even possible a more important tale to be told?

Here are other unidentified occupation donors from around Loudoun, in case you thought the example above was an isolated incident.



31 thoughts on “Unenforced Campaign Finance Laws

  1. Epluribusunum

    Of course you were quoting him. As I already told you, “Union Guy asked as a rhetorical question, so it’s reasonable to assume that the answer is no, he does not object to advocacy groups making donations.” Or as he put it, “make a stink.”

    So, can you provide evidence that he, or anyone else participating in this conversation, does? If not, either 1) don’t make the allegation (“Yes.”), or 2) don’t demand that standard of anyone else.

  2. Barbara Munsey

    Again, David, you are deliberately ignoring that I am QUOTING union guy. You aren’t holding anyone to any standards, you are doing the usual at playing the meaning police and arguing semantics in order to “control” discussion.

    Which is why there seldom is any here, but just IMO

  3. Epluribusunum

    I’m only holding you to the same standard that you have demanded of others – if you can’t provide evidence that Union Guy or anyone else here has personally “made a stink” about something, then don’t say so. Or does that rule not apply to you for some reason?

  4. Epluribusunum

    If you try to defend the indefensible, and if you try to be neutral regarding matters on which neutrality is not an option, you will be called out. I won’t apologize for having principles. If this offends you, too bad.

  5. Barbara Munsey

    David, please reread union guy’s remark, specifically “Do we make a stink when all the NRA staff donate?” in the last line.

    I did not refer to you making a stink at all.

    Stop overpersonalizing, maybe? It can be as innapropriate as generalizing.

  6. Dan Schmidt

    Clearly your point got lost in its partisan hackery.

    To the point, what evidence do you have that laws were being effectively enforced, what percentages of filings were being being audited previously, that the reviews had any effect whatsoever, etc.?

    I’m not trying to simply be argumentative. You used undetermined/missing occupations as your primary evidence. If you go back 10 years, you’ll see that the rate varies wildly from year to year. The rates this year are not out of the norm, and by considering filings that are only 19 days old, you doesn’t allow for the self-correction that is occurs as evidenced by the correction to the spring Al Nevarez filing.

    There budget of the SBE since 2007 is here, on the last page:
    SBE’s budget clearly ramped way up for the presidential election in 2008, then has been cut way back in 2009 and every year since.

    Their personnel allocations haven’t significantly dropped: 38 employees in 2008, and 37 employees every year since. Maybe they have allocated positions that aren’t being filled?

    I’m sure there are iniquities found on all sides, but the very fact that the budget the Governor got passed tore away funding to enforce campaign finance laws is unconscionable.

    Take a look at the budget document and be sure to to note that the biggest cuts to SBE’s budget came under Governor Kaine.

  7. Paradox13

    It’s kinda frustrating that the point I was trying to make has been lost. Let me reiterate it.

    The State Board of Elections doesn’t have the money to review campaign finance filings and is not enforcing the laws as a result.

    That is the scandal! I’m sure there are iniquities found on all sides, but the very fact that the budget the Governor got passed tore away funding to enforce campaign finance laws is unconscionable.

  8. Eric the 1/2 troll

    “Would it be fair to bring up Tom Bellanca’s campaign financing?”

    Absofrigginlutely!! Looks like no matter which way we go, we will have a Chairman who answers to someone besides the citizens of Loudoun County. Looks like York actually has fewer traditional developer/builder contributions (at least obvious ones) but there is no lack of special interest in his report.

    Loudoun BOS elections get slimier every year.

  9. Epluribusunum

    Wolverine, why wouldn’t she be impressed with Alfonso? People who speak with him generally are. And it sounds like May Silverstein’s support is a great asset.

    Let’s not lose sight of the fact that, with all of your purportedly learned explanations of “how things work,” your comments here are only part of that game, not outside it. You are a Delgaudio supporter (God only knows how you sleep at night, but that’s a discussion for another post), and are doing your “job” in that capacity.

  10. Epluribusunum

    Who is the “we” to which you are referring? Union Guy asked as a rhetorical question, so it’s reasonable to assume that the answer is no, he does not object to advocacy groups making donations. Do you have evidence otherwise? Can you provide evidence of anyone participating in this discussion – but especially me since you pointedly address me as an individual – “making a stink” (whatever that means to you) about NRA or other advocacy group donations to a candidate? If not, you are just generalizing something you heard elsewhere to specific individuals here. Not appropriate.

  11. Wolverine

    Yeah, wow, Union Guy. On her own blog, May Silverstein described herself as a “strategic analyst” in the CB Dept and as providing “research support to campaigns.” Looks to me like she has transferred that talent to the cause for Alfonso Nevarez. But that is really neither here nor there. She may be in law school right now but she was one of Alfonso’s contemporaries in the CB Dept. as late as 2010. (Since she has stated that she wants a law degree so she can work at reforming the labor laws, my bet is that, once she has that sheepskin, she winds up right back at the AFL-CIO. She seems to be a smart cookie. Having read much of what she has written on the AFL-CIO NOW blog, I posit that the big boys upstairs would be smart to bring her back with a law degree to boot.)

    The real point here is that Alfonso has started off his campaign for the general election with a line of BS about having beaten his opponent in fund raising for the last reporting quarter. Whooeee! Look at me! The people out there love me so much that they donated more to me than to my opponent!

    Contrary to your misimpression, Union Guy, I do not frown on family donations. I don’t even frown on donations from Alfonso’s collegues in the union offices. What I find to be in the BS category is making it seem as if family and pass-the-hat donations at the union office are part of an indication of one’s superior prowess at raking in campaign cash from the public. Balderdash. And do not try to tell me that May Silverstein with her $2500 in-kind donation of research is not part of the pass-the-hat crowd at the office. I doubt if Alfonso had to advertise in the papers and that May showed up at his door unexpectedly with Surprise! Surprise!

    That’s about it, Union Guy. Just a little reminder to newcomer Alfonso that he is no longer in the friendly confines of way-left San Francisco. He starts the BS in this town and he will get jumped. Welcome to the Loudoun blogosphere.

    And, for the love of Mike, Union Guy, stop the stump speech about what the unions have done for us. I know all that and agree. Our family goes back almost to the days when Walter Reuther and the guys were battling the Big Boys on the streets of Detroit. We were all union, pure and simple. But we also knew the crap that went down on the shop floor and the crap of union involvement in politics. Don’t get me started or I’ll blow the fuses on Liz’s blog, starting with exactly who played a huge role in maintaining the housing color line in our blue-collar town despites scads of verbal support for civil rights. But let me just finish by saying that I grew up in a town with big factories employing thousands upon thousands of good union workers. Got none of that anymore. All we have now are shuttered plants and empty lots where hugh plants used to be. And all those jobs went south and west to places with right-to-work — long before anyone ever heard of out-sourcing. It’s called the “Rust Belt.” Our precious unions never learned that it was quite possible to kill that golden goose. Sad.

  12. Union Guy

    Wow Wolverine.

    1) Campaign writers in the AFL-CIO work in the political department. May was a researcher. I know this because I know her. Stop assuming.
    2) Whats wrong with family donations? I assume all candidates would first ask family, friends, and coworkers. Do you have issues with this? Maybe candidates should ask companies that do business in Loudoun first? Or is it you do not have friends or family that would donate to you?
    3) COPE donations are VOLUNTARY and you could have asked to not participate. (its the law)
    4) Thank god the UAW provided a safe working environment for your family; and your health insurance; and their retirement. You might have been bitter if they were seriously hurt or maimed on the job; or fired for no reason; or their job was sent overseas.

    God Bless

  13. Dan Schmidt

    Would it be fair to bring up Tom Bellanca’s campaign financing?

    71.4 % of his cash and in-kind donations came from real-estate and development interests. That more than doubles Ken Reid’s one-third mark.

    I love this money quote from Paradox13VA:

    Anyone from any industry is welcome to participate in Virginia’s elections. And everyone has the right, and privilege, to support whomever they choose in the manner they choose, as long as it doesn’t break the law. But we, as voters, have a co-equal right to evaluate candidates, at least in part, on the types of donations they get, and from where. Loudoun County has a long history of development money playing a role in our elections. I believe that Leesburg will do well to look at candidates financed by such money with a jaundiced eye, because it is hard to tell a friend who financed your campaign “no” when they ask to clear cut a farm for the next strip mall.

  14. Barbara Munsey

    sorry David, yes to the “do we make a stink if the NRA donates”?

    And any other advocacy group with whom YOU disagree.

    (David, you know, the question for clarification worked just fine on me. Try the same, in case your assumptive conclusion is incorrect.)

  15. Wolverine

    Yeah, right, union guy. One of May’s jobs in the Collective Bargaining Department at the AFL-CIO was writing campaign propaganda for union-supported political candidates. Very cutesy that connections like that never get into the campaign record unless somebody calls you on it. How cleverly innocent. She just happened to be impressed with Alfonso. As I said in another post, Alfonso was passing the hat for donations in his own office, not to mention the $1000 he received from family back in San Francisco. Add it up and you will see that Alfonso’s claim of having beaten out Delgaudio in fund raising is the typical BS I used to see coming out of the UAW C.O.P.E. most of my life. And, since I and almost everyone else in my family worked in closed-shop factories, the C.O.P.E. took the money out of my union dues to pay for it. A form of blackmail based on whether or not you wanted to keep your job.

  16. liz

    I still don’t get what you’re trying to hint at, Wolverine. If it’s her union background, then i’m in favor, and you have little to worry about. This being a right to fire state and all.

  17. Epluribusunum

    ‘Yes’ to what? Are you claiming that donors are supposed to disclose jobs they held in the past?

    I didn’t realize Wolverine was pointing out an employer that isn’t current, as if there was some violation committed by not disclosing it. And apparently he was ok with leaving that impression. Thanks, union guy. That information puts it in an entirely different light.

  18. Union Guy

    So Wolverine when I donate I need to list my previous jobs? May worked at the AFL-CIO before Law School. Just shows you that Al made an impression on her. I would rather have friends and family donate than builders, criminals or Golf Drink Companies! Do we make a stink when all the NRA staff donate?

  19. Dan Schmidt

    I’m no less worried about Al than you seem to be worried about the republican candidates.

    Apparently Al, is only human and is entitled to make mistakes, and to correct them in X moons, whereas R’s are not entitled to make mistakes, and are granted less than 1 moon to correct their filings.

    I’m sorry if it upsets you that I see this as incredibly hypocritical.

  20. Wolverine

    Liz — In this particular case it is a blog poster who complains about something and then posts only Republican candidates as examples. Just thought I would throw in an example from the other side to balance the thing a bit. As for the rest of it, you read NVTH. Do I have to repeat that?

  21. Dan Schmidt

    July 15th was our last full moon, coincidentally, the date of Yorks’ last report that has you all worked up. If moons are going to be our measure of time, you haven’t even given York a single moon to correct the record.

    You could help me with these questions:

    How many moons did it take to correct Al Nevarez’s April 15 filing?


    Are you not concerned about the uncorrected donation from Ed Feigen?

  22. Epluribusunum

    Poor Dan. Your document is dated April. That omission (my fault, btw) was corrected many moons ago. Sorry about that. Anything else we can help you with?

  23. Dan Schmidt

    ah, the sweet stench of hypocricy

    You might also ask Al Nevarez to provide the occupation of one Mr. David Weintraub

    While he’s at it, you might also ask Al to have his buddy Ed Feigen provide his address as required by law

  24. Epluribusunum

    Well, God bless May Silverstein. I’m confident that she would understand the implication of calling one’s constituents “it.” Unlike some of our visitors, for whom no act is too immoral to defend as long as their policy objectives are achieved. Spare me your faux outrage.

  25. Wolverine

    Take a look at the campaign finance report for Alfonso Nevarez and tell me just from that alone who May Silverstein, his top donor at $2500 (in-kind), really is. Hint: You will have to Google her to get the answer.

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