The state Board of Elections held a hearing Monday regarding complaints from the Democratic Party of Virginia that two national Republican organizations broke the state's campaign finance laws by withholding names of donors and failing to properly register with the state.
The board voted to refer the complaints to the Richmond commonwealth's attorney's office, saying that it has no independent authority to investigate whether the organizations broke the law.
The three-member panel is not "granted by the legislature any audit authority," Jean Jensen, the board secretary, said during the hearing. "We are not granted any investigatory authority. We simply receive the campaign finance reports."
She said that if no criminal charges are filed by the commonwealth's attorney, the state board may then assess civil penalties, if warranted.
Also Monday, the Republican Governors Association filed a complaint with the elections board alleging that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Timothy M. Kaine violated Virginia's campaign ad law by using the Republicans' trademarked elephant logo in a mailing critical of his GOP opponent, Jerry W. Kilgore. Kaine's press secretary, Delacey Skinner, said the flier included the statements required by state law. "We have not broken any laws," she said. "We put a 'paid for' disclaimer on the mailer."
One of the Democrats' complaints is that the Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee should be required to disclose the names of donors whose contributions are being spent on ads for Del. Robert F. McDonnell of Virginia Beach, the GOP candidate for attorney general.
Democrats allege that because the national organization is not bound to disclose individual donors until next year, it is serving as a "pass-through" for a wealthy McDonnell supporter attempting to circumvent Virginia election laws.
McDonnell is running against Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) in an increasingly tense campaign. The complaint asks the state board to name the alleged donor, assess civil penalties on any violators and demand that any illegal contributions be returned before the election.
"There's a significant danger to the voters of the commonwealth, because we have large sums of money pouring into this commonwealth," Jay B. Myerson, general counsel for the Democrats, said in an interview after the hearing. He said he believes that the elections board does have the authority to make a decision on the allegations.
McDonnell's staff released a statement saying that the candidate has always followed the law.
"From the beginning of the campaign over three years ago, we have fully complied with the letter and spirit of Virginia law," said Janet Polarek, McDonnell's press secretary.
A Republican State Leadership Committee official said the group is within the bounds of state law. "We've been following the advice of the state board all along," said Tim Barnes, the organization's executive director. "We're following the law."
The second Democratic complaint says a federal political action committee headed by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) gave money to Republican candidates in Virginia without registering with the state board.
A lawyer for Davis's PAC, the Federal Victory Fund, contested the Democratic allegations in a letter to the board last week but said that it would register with the board to ensure that no laws were broken.
"The Federal Victory Fund has fully reported its contributions . . . in accordance with the requirements of the [Federal Election Commission's] statutes and regulations," Christopher T. Craig wrote in a letter dated Oct. 28.