Ten months after last year's free-spending Virginia elections, the public interest lobby Common Cause has issued grades for the six statewide candidates. They all flunked.
Virginia's campaign finance laws require listing on disclosure forms the occupation of any contributor who gives more than $250 to a political candidate. The idea is to alert the public if some groups, such as lawyers or developers, are influencing elections through their contributions.
All of last fall's candidates were deficient in listing the occupations of their large contributors on disclosure forms they submitted to the state board of elections, according to the Common Cause report.
Democrat L. Douglas Wilder, who won the race for governor, failed to list the occupations of more than 40 percent of his contributors. His Republican opponent, J. Marshall Coleman, did better, but similarly failed to list occupations for almost 5 percent of his contributors.
The four candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general had similar lapses.
Wilder spokeswoman Laura Dillard said the candidate's aides did their best to file complete reports, but it wasn't always possible in the hubbub of a campaign.
The six general election candidates last fall raised $17.4 million -- a record in Virginia by far -- from about 12,697 contributions. Some donors contributed more than once.
Common Cause of Virginia President Julie Lapham said candidates aren't vigilant about filling out their forms properly because penalties are minimal -- a minimum $100 fine -- and the law does not give the elections board enforcement power.
Lapham recommends that the General Assembly stiffen penalties and create an independent agency (the board of elections is appointed by the governor) to monitor compliance.
Among the other changes Common Cause called for is a law that would require political parties to list their contributors.
"Virginia's reporting laws are among the most lax in the nation," Lapham said.