Va. GOP Lawyer Seeks Heavy Fines Against Creigh Deeds

October 20, 2009

A Republican lawyer asked the State Board of Elections on Monday to fine Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds over contributions from unions.

Gary Byler, acting on his own behalf, contends in the six-page complaint that Deeds and allied Democratic organizations have taken millions of dollars from labor groups that either haven't registered with the state board or failed to disclose donors according to state law.

"They're supposed to be listing that stuff, doggone it," Byler, chairman of the Republican committee for Virginia's 2nd Congressional District, said in an interview.

Byler's complaint comes as the campaign between Deeds and Republican Bob McDonnell enters its final two weeks, reflecting the contentious nature of the race and the high stakes both national parties place on it. Virginia and New Jersey are the only states electing governors this fall.

The complaint names Deeds' campaign, the political arms of several unions and the Democratic Governors Association and unions that have given to DGA.

Deeds spokesman Mike Gehrke said Monday the campaign is in full compliance with the law and called the complaint meritless.

DGA spokeswoman Emily DeRose said her organization was in full compliance with state laws requiring out-of-state independent advocacy groups like the DGA and its GOP national counterpart, the Republican Governors Association, to promptly identify all their donors if total spending in Virginia races tops $10,000 in a calendar year.

"Bob McDonnell must be getting nervous if he's sending out his right wing attack dogs to launch phony complaints," DeRose said.

Byler's letter asks the board to investigate whether $3.7 million from the Democratic Governors Association and $1.1 million he claims are union donations comply with state laws. And if it finds knowing violations, Byler notes in his letter, the board can impose civil fines up to the amount of the contributions.

Byler said he'd settle for more information about the unions' donors.

"If they were to put up the list this Wednesday or Thursday, that would put it all to rest," he said.

His letter asks the SBE to investigate the issue and make a determination on it before the Nov. 3 election.

Nancy Rodrigues, the SBE's executive secretary, said she had turned the complaint over to her staff's campaign finance law experts and could not speculate on what their findings would be or how long it would take to reach them.

The state law Byler accuses Deeds, the DGA and union-controlled political action committees of violating was enacted in 2006 after a shadowy "527 political group" spent more than $2 million on behalf of McDonnell's 2005 attorney general campaign and did not disclose its donors until after the election.

Three-fourths of the money the Republican State Leadership Committee spent airing pro-McDonnell ads came in the final month of McDonnell's race, in which he defeated Deeds by fewer than 400 votes statewide, the closest finish ever in Virginia.

The committee was created under section 527 of the federal tax law, which requires only that donors be disclosed semiannually. When the list was finally revealed, it was top-heavy with huge gifts from major national corporate and conservative interests, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Tort Reform Association, the Philip Morris parent corporation Altria Group, Wal-Mart and Exxon Mobil.

In this year's race, McDonnell has drawn much of his money from corporate sources and says Deeds' strong labor backing is cause for alarm among business interests. He has also received about $2 million this year from the RGA, also a 527 group.

Labor has contributed nearly $2.1 million directly to Deeds' campaign, according to Board of Elections data analyzed by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonprofit and nonpartisan online watchdog of money in the state's politics. Labor is also a major national donor to the DGA. McDonnell reports getting no union donations.

Business and corporate interests including real estate, finance and banking, insurance, agriculture, manufacturing, energy and defense contractors have given McDonnell's campaign more than $7.7 million compared to slightly more than $5 million for Deeds.

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