Post #612: Election confusion on two fronts

Posted on April 8, 2020

First, it looks like the Governor is trying to get all May elections postponed until November.  I think that’s the correct thing to do, all things considered.

Second, there still seems to be considerable confusion in Town over campaign finance laws.   Twice in the past two days I’ve seen or hear of things that lead me to believe that many people in Town still either don’t understand what the law is, or are deliberately misrepresenting what the law is.

I heard that, sometime in the past couple of days, somebody claimed that a sign was illegal because it had some candidates names, but no “Paid by …”  line noting the source of funding.  That’s wrong.  And we all know that’s wrong, because we’ve never had “paid by” lines on the yard signs before.  And I also see that, this year, one candidate actually does have a “paid by” line on her signs.  That’s also wrong, if she’s trying to convince people she’s complying with the CFDA.  But as long as we all recognize that’s just a bit of let’s-pretend, I think that’s harmless.

If you actually want to comply with the CFDA, you have to have duly-constituted and registered Virginia Political Action Committee.  I know because I did that last year, to make sure I understood the process.  And detailed what the CFDA does and does not do, on this website.

Looks like it’s time for a refresher course on the Virginia CFDA.

In a nutshell, no campaign finance disclosure laws apply to Town of Vienna elections.  That’s the way it has always been, ever since Virginia pass the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act.  (CFDA).  The only change this year is that they’ve added a clause that says, if you spend $25,000 or more, as a candidate, in a Town election, then yeah, in that case, you have to obey the CFDA.

So, briefly, with citations as to source:

Campaign finance law for Virginia Towns with under 25,000 population.

There are none.  So let’s start with the basics.  No campaign finance laws apply to Town of Vienna elections.  I wish they did (Post #272, from May of last year.)  Not unless the Town Council slipped in a piece of last-minute legislation. Or a candidate is planning to spend more than $25 grand, which I think is way beyond unlikely.

So if somebody tells you that (e.g.) some sign is illegal because it doesn’t comply with Virginia law, they just haven’t read the law.  Or they are trying to pull a fast one on you.  If somebody puts a “paid for” line on their signs, they’re either trying to convince you of something that’s not so, or they’re planning to shell out more than $25,000 in their election bid.

But that last one is easy enough to check.   If somebody’s complying the the CFDA, and that “paid by” line has any legal meaning, they have to have a Virginia PAC.  No PAC?  Then a “paid for” line is just an additional bit of election-year nonsense.  It’s easy enough to search all the active Virginia-registered PACs, right at this link.  Have a look for yourself, if you care.

It’s a simple test.   Got a PAC?  No?  Then any “paid for” line you see is the politician’s variant on “guaranteed not to turn pink in the can“.

So let’s all go read the law, because boy am I tired of having to explain this.  And, interestingly, it changed since the last time I looked at it:

This is § 24.2-945. Elections to which chapter applicable; chapter exclusive.

The provisions of this chapter shall apply to all elections held in Virginia, ... except nominations and elections for ... (iii) town office in a town with a population of less than 25,000, ....

Emphasis mine. But they’ve added a new exception since last year.  If you spend in excess of $25,000 on the election, you’ve got to abide by the CFDA:

The provisions of this chapter shall be applicable to a candidate for a town office in a town with a population of less than 25,000 if (a) such candidate accepts contributions or makes expenditures in excess of $25,000 within the candidate's election cycle

And then it goes on to say, or if the Town votes to put itself under the CFDA.  Herndon actually did that about 7 years ago.  But not, to my knowledge, the Town of Vienna.  Last time my wife brought this up at a Town Council meeting (Post #507).  That was met with roughly the same reaction as a fart in an elevator:  Dead silence and dirty looks.

Why do I know the law?  Because I bothered to go through all the steps to form a legally-registered Virginia PAC (Post #272).  I needed to know, first hand, exactly how burdensome it was, before I suggested that the Town vote to put itself under the CFDA.  I even wrote up a guide to doing all the steps required to form a legally-registered Virginia PAC.  I offered to make that guide freely available to anyone who wanted it if the Town ever voted to put itself under the CFDA,.  My wife got up in (one, several, I forget) Town Council meetings and pleaded with the Town to put itself, for reals, under the CFDA.

Which is also why I find people who don’t know the law, but throw it around to intimidate people, or mimic it to impress the gullible, I find that irksome.

Actually complying with the CDFA requires some significant effort.  There are a lot of legally-required reports that must be filed, for example.  I went through that, myself, forming a PAC, because I did not want to recommend that the Town put itself under the CFDA if that process was impossible to comply with.

But the short and simple answer is, the CFDA simply does not apply to Town of Vienna elections.   This year.  Just the same as it didn’t apply in any prior Town election.

Unless you plan to spend $25,000 or more.  That’s the only change for this year.