The Fairfax County Republican Committee, in an action that has drawn criticism from some of the party's elected officials, has withdrawn from the Fairfax Fair Campaign Practices Committee, saying that the panel consistently has ruled in favor of Democrats.
The GOP committee voted earlier this month to urge candidates in county elections to agree to abide by a "strong code of ethics." The code would be voluntary and would lack any enforcement mechanism, unlike the campaign practices committee, whose only sanction was to announce its findings.
The GOP committee's vote to withdraw occurred Jan. 15 when most of the GOP's elected officials were at the General Assembly or were out of town, according to Warren E. Barry, clerk of Fairfax Circuit Court. "If you polled the elected officials, it's my guess that most of them would have opposed this," said Barry. "It creates an image problem."
"Those of us who are of a more reasonable bent have been totally supportive of the commission and haven't found it to have acted unfairly," said Del. James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax). "I have found more problems emanating from certain groups in the Republican Party than I ever found from the Democratic Party."
House Minority Leader Vincent F. Callahan (R-Fairfax) said he was not opposed to the action. "I never thought the campaign practices committee amounted to much anyway," he said.
"I think it's unfortunate," said state Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax). He said that he is in favor of strengthening campaign ethics, "but that's not a viable substitute" for the committee.
The committee, established in 1975 to hear complaints of unfair practices, is composed of three Republican appointees, three Democratic appointees and an independent member, who must be approved by both parties.
The letter from Fairfax County Republican Chairman Ben Partin informing the county Democrats of the withdrawal said, "The highly political nature of the Fair Campaign Practices Committee has created considerable controversy as to make it ineffective as a fair body to hear and judge alleged violations of the Code of Ethics."
"There was a feeling among the members of the Republican committee that the Republicans are always losing," said Callahan. "The independent always seemed to side with the Democrats."
In the last nine years, several Republican candidates have criticized the ethics panel and advocated withdrawing. Barry, who was out of town when the party voted to withdraw, said he believes that there have "been some abuses. But not enough to justify pulling out."