By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine abruptly canceled a reception planned for the governor's mansion next week after he discovered yesterday that the event's organizers were advertising it as a Democratic fundraiser.
The Farm Team, a political action committee formed to help Democratic women seek elected office, posted a solicitation on a liberal fundraising Web site seeking donations from $25 to $1,000 to attend a series of events Monday in Richmond. The appeal invited people who purchased a ticket to a panel discussion at the Richmond Marriott to a reception at the governor's mansion.
The invitation was posted on ActBlue, a nationwide clearinghouse for donors who want to direct money to Democratic campaigns and causes. The invitation did not mention Kaine (D) but said his wife, Anne Holton, and Lynda Robb, wife of former governor Charles S. Robb (D), were helping host the event.
"Funds raised through this event support The Farm Team," the advertisement stated.
Several prominent Virginia politicians, including former attorney general Mary Sue Terry (D), formed the PAC in September. It recently begin doling out donations, including $1,000 last month to Fairfax County Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (Braddock), the Democratic nominee for board chairman.
Under Virginia law, Kaine is prohibited from raising money for himself or state political committees during the 45-day legislative session, which began Jan. 14. Traditionally, Virginia governors also do not raise money at the governor's mansion, although no law prohibits it, said David Allen, manager of the Virginia State Board of Elections.
But the possibility that it might appear that Kaine was using the mansion to raise money for Democrats prompted the governor to distance himself from the event.
When a Washington Post reporter asked Kaine about the event yesterday, he described it as a reception to honor the members of the group. A few hours later, a Kaine adviser called back to announce that the governor was canceling the reception.
"We were unaware the meeting was a fundraiser, and we did not receive any advance notice on the ActBlue page," said Charlie Kelly, Kaine's political director. "While we certainly appreciate the Farm Team's efforts to engage women in politics, they unintentionally structured the event in a way that the governor could not participate, and we canceled the event."
The incident added fuel to partisan discord in Richmond over fundraising efforts by Kaine, who yesterday became chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Republicans have argued that the governor is skirting restrictions on raising campaign funds during the legislative session.
On Monday, Kaine joined Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and James Webb in sponsoring a Virginia Inaugural Ball, a fundraiser for the state and Arlington County Democratic Party.
GOP leaders said the event violated the fundraising prohibition. Democratic officials said it conformed with the law because the money from ticket sales was collected prior to the start of the session.
House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said he got a "creepy feeling" when he learned of the planned reception at the mansion.
"It looks like someone was trying to be very, very clever in trying to get around the spirit of the law," Griffith said.
Susan Platt, a founder of the Farm Team, said the reception was never designed to be a fundraiser. She said the ticket prices were to cover the cost of membership dues and a lunch at the Marriott. The solicitation also included higher ticket prices because, she said, some people asked how they could also make a donation to the PAC.
"It is unfortunate the way it was worded gave a misimpression," Platt said. "We are a newly formed, all-volunteer Democratic women's organization, and we are sorry we inadvertently caused the governor a problem."
She also said the group "certainly" didn't take the cancellation personally.