RICHMOND — A Virginia state senator has promised to return $1,695 in campaign donations raised with an appeal made in his name during the General Assembly session, when sitting lawmakers are prohibited from raising money.
An e-mail sent under the name of Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) Thursday, one day after the session began, sought donations to help defray the costs of a recount in a special Senate election that was narrowly won by a Democrat last week. It also asked for donations to help a Democrat win a special House election coming up later this month, including a link not to the candidate’s campaign fund but to the House Democratic Caucus.
McEachin said he was not aware that the appeal, sent by the Senate Democratic Caucus staff, would be issued under his name. It carried his signature at the bottom, but he said it was an electronic version added without his knowledge.
Nevertheless, McEachin said he that took responsibility for the error and that the contributions would be returned to all 45 donors. “It was wrong,” he said. “I take full responsibility for it. It was not intentional.”
Under a state law that McEachin voted for years ago, state-level officeholders cannot raise or accept campaign money for themselves or colleagues during the legislative session. The prohibition does not apply to fundraising for federal offices, leaving a state delegate or senator free this year to raise cash for their congressional bids. Sen. Richard H. Black (Loudoun) and Del. Barbara Comstock (Fairfax) are both seeking the Republican nomination in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.).
There is also an exception for special elections, which may have led the caucus staff to think it could raise money for the state Senate and House races. But Republicans, who blasted McEachin’s fundraising effort Monday, said the loophole did not apply in either case.
They said the Senate race is no longer in the midst of a special election even though the results — Del. Lynwood W. Lewis Jr. (D-Accomack) led Wayne Coleman (R) by just nine votes — are being challenged with a recount. And because Lewis will not resign his House seat unless his victory is upheld in the recount, Republicans say, he cannot raise money for his recount because he is a sitting member of the legislature.
The special-election exception would seem to apply to the House race, since no one involved is currently in the General Assembly. The candidates are Jennifer Wexton (D), a Leesburg lawyer; John Whitbeck, chairman of the 10th Congressional District Republican Committee; and former delegate Joe T. May, who lost a reelection bid last year in the GOP primary and is running as an independent.
But instead of providing a link to Wexton’s campaign, the fundraising letter linked instead to the “donate” page of the Senate Democratic Caucus.
“The donations page of the website of the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus remains open and ready to receive contributions, five days after the General Assembly convened,” Pat Mullins, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said in a written statement. “Having voted for the bill that outlawed this very kind of fundraising, Senator McEachin must be fully aware that the law was intended to prevent exactly this kind of direct solicitation from a lawmaker while the General Assembly is in session.”
McEachin, looking upset as he discussed the matter with reporters, said the lapses were inadvertent and soon to be corrected.
“It went out without my knowledge, but that doesn’t eliminate the fact that it’s still a mistake, and I’m very unhappy about that mistake,” McEachin said. “If there's a fine to be paid, I will certainly pay the fine. . . . And just as importantly, if not more importantly, the 1,600-and-some-odd dollars are going to be returned to the donors.”