Common Cause of Virginia charged yesterday that 58 political organizations, among them Virginia dairy producers and Crusade for Voters, the state's largest group of black campaign activists, appear to have violated state compaign laws.
Common Cause executive director Judy Goldberg said at a press conference that the groups contributed or received campaign funds last year without filing required organization statements with the state Board of Electio.
"Once again, we have an instance where the state Board of Elections has failed either to inform or enforce," she said.
"This total lack of interest on the board's part must be seen as encouraging candidates and committees to ignore Virginia's hard-won disclosure laws. Without a commitment to enforcement, any efforts to improve the laws can be seen as an exercise in futility."
Board chairman Ulysses J. Joyner Jr. of Orange replied in an interview that "enforcement of the criminal provisions of the election laws is the responsibility of the commonwealth's attorney's, as provided in the Code of Virginia."
Joyner said the board has never referred information about a possible violation of the Fair Elections Act to a prosecutor. The first Fair Elections Act requiring contributions and spending disclosure was passed in 1970. The section requiring political committees to file with the board was enacted in 1975.
Asked whether the board examines election reports for possible criminal violations, Joyner said board secretary John S. Mahan, chief administrative officer of the agency, would have to answer that. Mahan was out of town yesterday and could not be reached.
A willful violation of the Fair Elections Act is a class 4 misdemeanor, the last serious of Virginia's 10 classes of crimes. The maximum penalty is a $100 fine.
All of the apparent violations made public by Common Cause yesterday accurred in connection with contributions made to canidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general during the 1977 statewide elections.
The largest contributor on the Common Cause list of committees that failed to file organization statements disclosing their officers, purposes, address and affiliated organizations was the Virginia Committee for Political Action, an arm of the national dairy producers political action unit. The Virginia unit, which gave $10,750 to candidates last year, is based in Rocky Mount in western Virginia.
Other committees on the Common Cause list that gave more than $5,000 and the city listed as their location when they made their contributions are:
Virginia State United Auto Workers Political Action Fund, Baltimore; United Democrats for Virginia, Washington; Engineers PECE Fund, Washington AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education, Washington; DRIVE Teamsters Local 592, Richmon, the United Steelworks of America Political Action Committee, Pittsburgh.
Common Cause also listed one organziation, Crusade for Voters, Richmon, as receiving $5,793 in expenditures by campaigns.
The Virginia Crusade for Voters, whose leadership is centered in Richmond, is one of the oldest and most influential black political action groups in the state. A separate black political organization, the Richmond Crusade for Voters also operates in the city.
It could not be immediately determined whether the expenditures listed by Common Cause went to both or only one of those organizations.
Dr. William S. Thornton, a Richmond podiatrist who is chairman of the Virginia Crusade, said in an interview that his organization did not receive contributions from the campaign but provided workers and distributed printed material paid for by the candidates endorsed by the crusade.
Anson Franklin, who was campaign manager for Republican Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman and is now his administrative assistant, said that the Coleman campaign wrote checks to the crusade to pay for campaign services that were purchased through the voter organization.
Earlier this year, the lobbying organization charged that candidates in the three elections last year improperly identified contributors who gave more than $181,000 to their campaigns. In most of those instances, Common Cause said the candidates failed to list the address or occupation or both of large contributors, as required by law.
Campaign officials have said they still are trying to complete proper identification of some of those contributors, and the board, so far, has not referred any of the cases to a prosecutor.
The Common Cause list included only those organizations that it said still have failed to file statements listing their officers, address, purposes an affiliated organizations. The election act requires that the data be filed within 10 days of a committee's organization or 10 days after the committee knows it will be spending or receiving political funds.