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Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Campaign Finance Reports and Timing

I took a beating this weekend from a few people for this story and the timing of it.

I thought I’d take a few minutes to explain why the story came out this weekend and not a few weekends before the election.

I finished the story about a month ago, still after the election. The government team editor was waiting on a few other stories so mine was in the can waiting to go to print. It still would have been after the election.

What some people did not know is that the last finance report is filed AFTER the election and that’s where a lot of the action happened for Benjamin Pitts and Gary Skinner. It’s not a story when developers give some money to candidates. It is a story if they give a lot of money to candidates. You’ll see a lot of action on their final two reports.

As for not mentioning the candidates’ donations under $100, I could have. But by no means do donations under $100 automatically mean that the "average citizen" is donating money to the candidate, as "southwest" pointed out about his favorite supervisor, Ben Pitts. The donations are anonymous on the reports, and there is absolutely NO evidence available to show the average voter was making the donation. It could have been Silver Cos. or any other developer donating $99 a pop. It could have been $50 a pop. The donations also could have been from the average voter.No one knows but the candidate.

What the story also did not point out was when Mr. Pitts ran for election in 2006-07, he refused to take money from developers. What changed in two years? 

If the finance report story was printed on Nov. 1, would it have changed the results of the election? Neither of the contests was close.

Supervisor Gary Skinner, who represents the Lee Hill District, won easily over challenger D.J. McGuire. Skinner won with 58 percent of the vote based on unofficial results.

Supervisor Benjamin Pitts defeated Chris Yakabouski, who held the seat from 2004 to 2007. Pitts took 54 percent of the vote.

Developers giving money to candidates is nothing new. It would have been highly unlikely that if voters knew that Skinner and Pitts received a lot of money from developers late in the election that the news would have changed their vote.That statement is based on 11 years of experience covering elections.

 

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/spotsygovt/2010/01/18/campaign-finance-reports-and-timing/

  • lgross

    Campaign Donations that are “efiled” can show
    up pretty quick – within hours. Paper filing takes
    longer. Many Counties in Virginia end up with all
    their candidates “efiling” when then results in
    timely reporting of the donations.

    I’d just point out that as far as I know (trying to
    find out more from VPAP) – candidates are not
    restricted from efiling and in fact are encouraged
    to efile by organizations like VPAP – THE
    VIRGINIA PUBLIC ACCESS PROJECT.

    Without impugning anyone – I’d just point out
    that candidates that choose to efile are making a
    statement about their commitment to
    transparency and timely disclosure of information
    that is relevant to many voters.

  • MAVRICKinc

    Supv. Skinner received his major election support, in 2006 from Tim Welsh (RCCI)-$1000; Thomas Y. Welsh (Sullivan Donahoe and Ingalls)-$2000; Meadow Farms-$1000; Cosner-$1000; Silver- $300 in $100 allocations; Pohanka-$500…

    You have to ask. How many of these players and development associates show up at Spotsylvania County Planning Department “Focus Group” meetings that the public and the FLS are not invited to attend.

    So, maybe you’re right Dan. Maybe it doesn’t matter whether developers finance their candadates on the BOS. However, how would you know one way or the other. You don’t attend FAMPO meetings and you dont attend “Focus Group” meetings, because you’re not permitted to attend.

    Simply said, since you don’t attend or report on these development staging arenas, outside public inspection. you couldn’t come to any other conclusion than “Developers giving money to candidates is nothing new.” Connect the dots along lines of Cosner’s, Tricord’s, Hazel’s, and Silver’s land holdings in Lee’s Hill and Battlefield Districts alone, you’ll get a better idea what’s coming down the pike for landscape changes to occur in these districts in the next 5 years. With projected high density housing projects to be built in these districts, plus the VRE agenda, and VDOT’ withdrawal from road construction and maintenance, there won’t be much room left for questions; before or after the fact.

  • lgross

    Not sure what the supposed FAMPO “connection”
    is but this kind of money in elections is IMHO a
    corrupting influence.

    I don’t think we should have corporate money in
    elections anyhow since Corporation are not
    people or voters.

    But if we have to have it then it need to be
    reported in a timely manner – such that voters in
    an election know who donated, what amount and
    who got it.

    Reporting these transactions after the fact is a
    mockery of open elections and it sends an
    important message – that corporate money is a
    viable path for potential candidates – and this is
    a BAD message.

    Dan seems quite convinced that these candidates
    would have won anyhow. I’m not so convinced.
    And I wonder aloud whether they would have
    taken that money if they knew the next day in
    the Free Lance it would be reported.

    I bet not.

    Beyond this election – all of us need to work to fix
    this problem. We either need to outlaw corporate
    donations all together or require timely reporting
    of them.

    Corporate donations are ruining our election
    process.

    and you know what…??? I’m not alone.. there
    are a bunch of corporations that support VPAP
    efforts to provide timely disclosure of donations.

    Here.. take a look:
    http://www.vpap.org/about_us/sponsors

  • gramps

    I basically agree with the commentary so far.

    I once had the President of a major Division of a multi-billion dollar Corporation tell me that they were “forced” to donate to politicians as a means to protect their competitive position. We were speaking of national politicians then, but his reasoning may apply to local conditions as well.

    He further explained that it was his view that it would be better if big money was not involved in elections, but that the nature of politics had evolved to the point where money controlled all elections.

    I found that sad then and I still find it sad today; only more so.

  • lgross

    this is a place where voters can make a
    difference. In this case, so far, the Virginia Public
    Access Project only generates timely campaign
    donation data (prior to elections) for a small
    number of local jurisdictions.

    http://www.vpap.org/elections/local

    where you’ll see that Stafford is covered and
    Spotsylvania is not.

    It’s a matter of resources. Each local jurisdiction
    requires devoted resources to obtain the data in
    advance of the required reporting deadlines and
    get it online in time for voters to see the money
    and where it is going PRIOR to the election –
    instead of AFTER when the required reports are
    generated,

    If enough citizens in Spotsylvania contact VPAP
    and are willing to donate a few bucks, they might
    consider including Spotsylvania for this fall’s
    election.

    Like anything else, if they don’t hear from
    citizens, they’ll assume there’s not much interest
    and focus on locations that want the reporting.

  • mustang2

    passed a change in the way funds are obtained for running the water and sewer system charging owners of wells and septic? If it is true, has it been reported and if not, why not?

  • gramps

    Go to FLS archives and read the article printed on Jan 15, 2010 titled…Water Fee Idea Splits Spotsy Supervisors. That hould clarify the situation for you.

  • dantelvock

    Mustang2,

    Nothing even close to that happened. DO you subscribe to the newspaper? If not, you will continue to be informed by people who aren’t really informed at all. This rumor is spreading like wildfire and even the Jan. 15 story didn’t help the situation.

  • southwest

    clearly state that at any point when anyone (individual or firm) makes contributions that excede $100.00 (regardless of the number of contributions that person or firm must be identified by name. (example – if a person make three $50.00 contributions ($150.00) at different times that person would be required to be identified by name). I hope you were not implying that a contributor could make endless donators as long as each donation didn’t excede $100.00. So if a report indicates that the candidate received donations from 85 donors that didn’t excede $100.00 that is exactly what it means. No individual or company can contribute over $100.00 regardless of how many times they contribute without being identified by name in the campaign finance report. Campaign finance laws are very clear on this matter.

  • lgross

    not sure what this is about but I was just pointing
    out that VPAP tracks the money (within the constraints of the law) but for some localities the
    tracking is done much more timely – and voters
    can see the data PRIOR to the Election.

    For other localities, because VPAP is not tracking
    it, you only find out about the money AFTER the
    election when the final reports are submitted.

    If the final report named developers as donating,
    then the more timely pre-election report would do
    the same.

    I’m openly encouraging people to lobby VPAP to
    track Spotsylvania Elections like they do Stafford
    Elections.

    I’m not even saying that developer money is
    wrong, bad, or evil. All I’m saying here is that
    voters should know about the money and make
    their decisions on who to vote for on that
    knowledge and their own views as to the propriety
    of it.

    Corporate money in elections, in general, in my
    view, is not a good thing but I’ll allow that others
    may think it is okay but all of us should know
    about it in time for us to factor it in to our vote.

    and this goes back to VPAP – a non-govt
    organization that tracks the money.

    it deserves our support and my understanding is
    that the level of support it receives – plays a role
    on what local elections get coverage.

  • southwest

    The comments were directed towards Mr. Telvock’s statement which could lead a reader to think that as long as a contributor didn’t contribute more than $100.00 at any one time that they could contribute as many times as they wanted and not be identified. That clearly isn’t the case. Once they contribute a total of over $100.00 (regardless of how many times they contribute) the election laws require that they be identified. Just wanted to set the record straight………

  • dantelvock

    I did not state what I meant. It has been proven by the media that some companies have used employees to donate $99, with the company actually making the donation. So, you could have 100 employees donate $99, but it’s all from one person. It happens.

    Does it happen here? Who knows.

    But these “typical voters” who donated to a candidate’s campaign had very little influence when compared with what the developers donated this year. Mr. Pitts and Mr. Skinner have public disclosures and most of the money they received came from the development community.

    Mr. Southwest, could you ask Mr. Pitts why he decided to accept developer money this election cycle when he declined in in 2007? I could not get a hold of him before the story published.