The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Donation to GOP attorney general hopeful should be disclosed, Democrats say; B2

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

Some state Democrats are crying foul over contributions to Republican attorney general candidate Bob McDonnell, saying the donations violate the “spirit” of Virginia’s campaign finance laws.

Taking a page from the playbook of failed GOP challenger Bill Bolling, the Democratic Party of Virginia said the Virginia Beach delegate should demand that the donors of Americans for Tax Reform be disclosed.

Larry Framme, a former state Democratic Party chairman, told reporters that $260,000 in donations from American Tort Reform Association to the Virginia Conservative Action PAC, which in turn gave $252,000 to McDonnell in media purchases, goes against the spirit of full disclosure.

“It’s at least within the spirit of Virginia’s finance laws that those donors be disclosed,” Framme said. “I suspect that Bob will come forward and urge that the individual contributors be disclosed.”

If they aren’t then McDonnell should return the money, he said.

“A bunch of people we don’t know … we don’t know who they are, where they’re from …” gave money to McDonnell, he said.

“We should know who they are under the spirit of Virginia law.”

The fact that a legal reform group gave money to a committee that was supporting only anti-tax candidates is odd, too, Framme said.

“There’s another agenda at work here, that’s clear,” he said.

Virginia places no limits on First Amendment expression in the form of donations, he said, but that comes at a price.

“It’s very different from many other states, because it doesn’t limit contributions. But it does require something very, very important — full disclosure of where the money comes from,” he said.

For its part, the McDonnell campaign says the donations are legitimate. “There’s nothing to it,” campaign manager Janet Polarek said.

Campaign officials also pointed to how successful Richmond attorney and GOP primary opponent Steve Baril was in making the same charges. McDonnell won by almost a 2-to-1 margin.

Donations from businesses and groups that don’t disclose their membership lists are common in Virginia politics.

But it’s about trust, not the letter of the law, Framme said.

The former chairman said he hadn’t even talked to the Democratic candidate for attorney general, state Sen. Creigh Deeds of Bath County, before calling the press conference, but was simply concerned about the level of trust Virginians would have in their next chief prosecutor.

Attorney general candidates run on law-and-order issues, but “99 percent of what an attorney general does goes well beyond that, into things that the public didn’t even think about when they elected them,” Framme said.

That makes ethics very important.

The fact that Baril made the same charges to no avail should have nothing to do with the current campaign, Framme said.

“Primary campaigns aren’t the same as a general election campaign,” he said.

Framme also declined to contrast McDonnell’s donations to those by businesses and corporations to Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner’s One Virginia PAC.