At What Point Does It Become A Conspiracy To Violate Campaign Finance Laws?

Virginia has a somewhat unique campaign finance law structure — unique because it works 99.99% of the time. Individuals, PACs and even corporations may donate unlimited amounts of money to candidates running for state and local office. The only ask by the government in return is that the candidates receiving those contributions disclose them. If someone gives a lot of money to a particular candidate, that candidate’s opponent is then free to make it an issue in the campaign with charges that a company or a person is attempting to buy the seat for the recipient. Ultimately, it is up to the voters to decide.

The 0.01% of the time that the law doesn’t work is when there are efforts to hide the source of money, whether it be going in to a campaign from a donor or out from a campaign to a vendor to purchase goods or services.

We are witnessing that 0.01% of the time right now in the Republican nominating contest for Lt. Gov. where nonexistant groups, seemingly defunct organizations and outright anonymous sources have all surfaced in support of one candidate and/or in opposition to that candidate’s main opponents.

It began with mailers and robocalls attacking Scott Lingamfelter from a group calling itself the “Committee for Growth and Opportunity” (the mailers had a disclaimer that it was from “American’s [sic] for Growth and Opportunity, Inc.” ) that is not registered anywhere.  Then came anonymous videos attacking Pete Snyder.  More recently, the mailboxes of convention delegates have been flooded with fliers attacking every candidate in the race with the exception of the one that they support.  These mailers come from a group calling itself Virginians for Limited Government.  Someone purporting to represent VLG posted a comment on Breitbart claiming they are a 501(c)(4) organization and not subject to reporting requirements.  However, according to Breitbart, there are no records available from either the IRS or Guidestar indicating that they even applied for 501(c)(4) status much less were granted it.

The latest comes from Willie Deutsch who reports this morning that the next target on the list is E.W. Jackson.  Mr. Deutsch provides evidence of opposition research with information intended to be used against Jackson that was supplied to reporters.  Furthermore, one of the reporters confirmed to him that it was supplied by the Stewart campaign.

Even more disturbing is what follows:

Multiple sources confirmed to me that over the weekend Corey Stewart personally contacted third party groups offering to pay the $12,000.00 if they would send out a $10,000.00 mailer to the convention delegates attacking E.W. for his financial history.  While I am told, that Stewart was turned down by some, I am also told he eventually found someone who agreed.  If you find an anonymous mailer in your mailbox right before the convention, or even after the convention, if the mailer gets stuck in the mail, you will know who it is from.

And for the final nail in the coffin, Breitbart is now reporting that at a Tea Party group meeting held at Mimi’s Cafe in Henrico last Friday moderated by Stewart supporter Carol Stopps, Stewart was asked about the VLG mailers and admitted in front of 50 witnesses when questioned, “Am I connected? Yes. I have donated money to that organization.”  When asked if he would condemn the mailers, he responded, “No, I’m not going to do it. I play hardball. This is politics.”

Breitbart obtained the following statement from Stewart today in which he seeks to put some daylight between himself and the actual decision-making of VLG:

On Tuesday, Corey Stewart emailed this statement to Breitbart News: “Over the course of my life, I have supported and recommended several conservative organizations including the Family Foundation, Gun Owners of America, National Right to Work, Campaign for Liberty and Virginians for Limited Government to various people.”

Stewart emphasized that neither he nor his campaign “had any coordination” with Virginians for Limited Government. “I am proud to support these like-minded organizations over the course of my political career,” his email statement continued. “What these groups do, I have no control over.  Neither myself or my campaign have had any coordination with this group.”

So, you have Stewart admitting to funding one of the organizations sending out the attack mailers on his behalf and you also have him not simply authorizing, but personally soliciting attack mailers against those he views as his main threats.

This leads us now to the question that must be asked:

At what point does this pattern cross over to become a full-fledged conspiracy to violate Virginia’s campaign finance laws?

Simply put, the Republican ticket cannot afford to have its nominee for Lt. Gov. (and a lawyer to boot!) come under investigation or even indictment during the midst of the campaign.

Sadly, this did not have to be the case.  Had the campaign only put out the attack pieces under its own name, this would not even be an issue and Stewart could be cruising to the nomination.

Ultimately, it is up to the delegates to decide whether to take this risk or not.

UPDATE:  We now have learned from a source that the VLG mailers were produced by Pinnacle Direct, a company that has done work with Stewart for years and is located in his home state of Minnesota.

See expenditure on 3/25/11 from Stewart campaign to Pinnacle here and another on 4/8/11 here.

pinnacle

 

UPDATE 2:

Willie Deutsch decimates Stewart’s defense and easily proved coordination.

Only RPV and the candidates have the convention delegate list.
VLG has the delegate list.
VLG attacked every candidate except Stewart who they have been promoting.
VLG therefore must have gotten the delegate list from Stewart.
Why is proving coordination so important?  Coordination isn’t illegal, but passing off these attacks as independent expenditures when there is coordination and should therefore be reported as in-kind contributions is illegal.

19 thoughts on “At What Point Does It Become A Conspiracy To Violate Campaign Finance Laws?

  1. I have not received any attack mailers against Lingamfelter that I’m aware of although my husband tends to throw out flyers. I did receive a robo call from Tito blasting Stewart. That is the only robo call we’ve had. I will say one thing, Greg has been doing an excellent job of trashing Stewart on his blog. In fact, that’s all he’s been doing lately and he admits it. At least he’s honest about it. From my point of view you can blame the negative stuff on every candidate. No matter what election, no matter who’s running, it’s the same old same old negative stuff. It never changes, just the faces and the names. “There is nothing new under the sun” Ecclesiastes 1:9

    1. Amen. And the one difference here is other candidates put their names on their pieces, even the negative ones.

  2. Interesting that the return address is a condo and is also that of the 8th District Republican Committee c/o Dena Kozanas

  3. I was at the meeting at Mimi’s restaurant on Friday. Corey took a lot of questions that many of us would consider being on the”fringe” of the discussion. He handled them all well.
    He did say that he had raised money for this like minded PAC in the “past” but now as a candidate he has no control or contact with what they choose to do. He also mentioned that while the flyer in question was factual it is not how he would have stated the point.
    Can Corey sue if all this speculation proves to be just that speculation?

    1. No. There are no grounds for him to sue anyone. As a public figure, the standard for defamation is much higher plus he would have to prove that anyone saying (slander) or writing (libel) things about him did so with malicious intent knowing what they were saying was untrue.

  4. The Pinnacle link is key. The first Breitbart piece referenced that the SBE received a couple of faxes indicating Virginians for Limited Government paid toward “Voyageur Company of Omaha.” Despite its name, Voyageur has offices in Washington, DC and is a political consulting firm.

    One of the principals of Voyageur is Tim Berkness who is also indicated as the owner of Pinnacle. http://thevoyageurcompany.com/our-team/who-we-are

    Pursuant to the SBE filings above, the Stewart Campaign is actively doing business with Pinnacle in 2013. Berkness also is a past campaign contributor to Corey Stewart. http://www.vpap.org/donors/profile/index/95791

    Both on this article and on the latest Breitbart article there is a commenter indicating Stewart did not take clear responsibility for the recent mailers. This could be true, I simply do not know. Provided these comments are true, all of the remaining above information still implicates the Stewart campaign.

    If the statements at Mimi’s Cafe are not accurate, Stewart still has a lot of damage control to do.

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