It’s getting to be that time of the year, when political campaign signs proliferate on roadways and yards, only to be followed by proliferating complaints about them, usually from opposing campaigns.
One of those to cry foul over political signage early in this busy election year is Jason Flanary, a Republican Senate primary candidate who said Monday that Sen. Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax) violated local zoning law by putting up his campaign signs for the general election a month early.
Flanary, who is running against Steve Hunt in the 37th District GOP primary, said Marsden’s required county permit allows him to begin posting campaign signs only after Aug. 25, two days after the primary.
“Dave Marsden believes the law applies to everyone else but him,” Flanary said in a written statement. Flanary also sent around a news release with pictures of a Marsden sign near a roadway but did not specify where the sign was.
A county official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the case, confirmed that the Planning and Zoning Department had received a complaint about three Marsden campaign signs at Braddock and Centreville roads, which is part of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s right-of-way. The complaint was then referred to VDOT, which enforces regulations regarding roadside signage, the official said.
But it appears as if Marsden could be in the clear, at least according to state law. As articulated in an opinion issued almost exactly three years ago by then-Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, the General Assembly in 1993 purposely exempted political signs from the state code regulating roadside advertising, and state law is the controlling authority on VDOT right-of-ways.
Flanary, in a telephone interview, said he believes that the state law and the attorney general’s opinion only apply to the question of location — that is, whether one may place campaign signs on a VDOT roadway — but not to their timing. He said he believes county code still controls when candidates may begin posting their signs.
“They’re still not permitted to go up prior to 75 days,” Flanary said. “He does not have the right to put them up now.”
A call to Marsden seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Gary Scott, deputy registrar with the Fairfax County Office of Elections, said Monday that state law requires that certain information be included in campaign signage but is silent on the time frame when signs may be posted.
Fairfax County’s zoning ordinance, however, has a lengthy chapter regulating permanent and temporary signage that includes a provision saying that political candidates or campaigns must obtain a permit before posting temporary off-site signs. It also stipulates that signs can be put up no more than 75 days before an election and must be removed within 15 days following the election.
The Fairfax County Planning and Zoning Department issued a permit that allows Marsden’s campaign to post signs only after Aug. 25, which is 75 days before the relevant election.
Yet the zoning code appears to run up against the Attorney General’s July 28, 2008, opinion, which was issued in response to a request for clarification from Fairfax County attorney David Bobzien. At the time, the county was contemplating entering a formal agreement with VDOT to act as the agent in enforcing the provisions regulating roadside signs, including a $100 fine for putting up advertisements there. Bobzien asked for clarification on whether political signs were exempt, as he suspected.
McDonnell’s opinion notes, however, that state law also requires that political signs be removed no later than three days after the election.