Is Bob McDonnell Violating Campaign Finance Law?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Is Bob McDonnell violating campaign finance law? If so, it’s all about having the proper disclaimers - or, more to the point, lack thereof - on the ads being run by the Republican Governor's Association (RGA) on McDonnell's behalf. A few points:

1. Nobody in their right mind believes that the RGA and McDonnell aren’t coordinating. The RGA paid for McDonnell's media effort this past spring by giving millions of dollars directly to his campaign. In the National Review, in fact, an RGA spokesman contrasted the group's work in New Jersey (where no coordination is allowed) with what they’re doing in Virginia.
... "In New Jersey, the campaign-finance laws are such that we have to run an independent expenditure campaign," says [RGA Communications Director Mike] Schrimpf. "We cannot coordinate, at all, paid media with Christie's campaign. In Virginia, we can contribute directly to Bob McDonnell's campaign. We gave him $2 million early on in the race, and helped him get on TV during May sweeps while the Democrats were still in their primary. I think it's paid off in the polls."

2. The RGA admits to coordination on its website. Check out, in particular, the last paragraph of the Virginia section, where they state point blank: "The RGA is able to coordinate with Bob McDonnell’s campaign." Wow. They're not even trying to hide it.

3. McDonnell is saying the same thing here:
At the Shad Planking political event in April, McDonnell told reporters he expected outside help. "The Republican National Committee, the Republican Governors Association, a number of other people around the country are very motivated to help us," McDonnell said. "They're going to do some significant things for us. I'm certainly not on my own."
4. If Bob McDonnell has coordinated wit the RGA - which it certainly appears that he has - the anti-Deeds attack ads would need to have McDonnell's name and disclaimer on them. They don’t. Perhaps the RGA is treating the ads as an in-kind contribution to McDonnell? [NOTE: Even if this was an in-kind contribution, that’s the same thing as coordinating and would still need the disclaimer] Regardless, what's clearly going on here is that McDonnell wants someone else to do his dirty work for him while he pretends to be positive, "moderate," reasonable, etc. Also cleeeeevvvver.

5. In this context, I think it's worth bringing up all the problems McDonnell caused with the RSLC in the 2005 Attorney General's race - also against Creigh Deeds - when McDonnell also tried to disguise donors and hide behind other organizations. See the Washington Post 10/21/05 editorial, "Virginia's Hidden Money", for more on this.
DEL. ROBERT F. McDonnell of Virginia Beach, a Republican, is the front-runner in Virginia's race for attorney general. If he wins on Nov. 8, he'll become Virginia's foremost law enforcement official. Yet as things stand, he would enter office tainted, complicit in ignoring the state law that insists the public should know where candidates get their cash. If he approaches this law with a wink and a nod, why should he be trusted to enforce the others?

Last week in this space we asked the McDonnell campaign to determine and disclose the identities of contributors who have channeled money to Mr. McDonnell through the Republican State Leadership Committee, a tax-exempt group that has been active in other states. This is no small matter: Mr. McDonnell has received more than $1 million from the RSLC, much of it in the past few weeks; among other things, this money has paid for a blitz of TV advertising in Northern Virginia. At the same time, the Virginia Board of Elections said groups such as the RSLC's Virginia committee should itemize contributions exceeding $100 and report any contributions above $10,000 on the board's Web site within three days.

The response from the RSLC and Mr. McDonnell? Silence.
6. Unfortunately, Bob McDonnell went on to become Attorney General of Virginia, and "silence" was all we ever got from him on this subject (even though he took an oath to enforce the state’s laws). Fortunately, as the Virginian-Pilot explained on February 23, 2006, the General Assembly took action and "plugg[ed] the hole in campaign finance laws that masked major financiers of Attorney Gen. Bob McDonnell's November election." The Virginian-Pilot added that "a state that touts public disclosure as the best way to guard against campaign abuse makes a mockery of its own standards when groups such as the RSLC can escape the dragnet."

Yet that's exactly what Bob McDonnell did in his run for Attorney General in 2005 - and got away with it - and now appears to be doing again in 2009. As the Virgnian-Pilot wrote on November 2, 2005, "The fact that the names of the donors to RSLC were not known until after the campaign was over 'violates at least the stated spirit of Virginia law.'" After that, why on earth we would trust Bob McDonnell with a position of even higher authority is completely beyond me, especially when the same slimy thing appears to be taking place this time around!