ONE MIGHT HAVE expected that the scandal over Virginia Republican Party officials eavesdropping on Democrats' conference calls would reemerge during this election season. What was not so predictable was who brought it up: the Virginia GOP. The state party is suing its insurer for not reimbursing the $750,000 that the GOP paid to the Democrats in a settlement reached late last year. The lawsuit requests an additional $200,000 for legal fees and interest.

This maneuver seems a bit slimy. At the crux of the claim against the insurance company is a tortuous legal argument that the Republican Party of Virginia Inc. should not be held accountable for illegal eavesdropping by individuals -- an absurd idea, given that the party's executive director and chairman both pleaded guilty. It's worth noting, too, that a quick win in this case could potentially be a windfall for gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore, whose political action committee contributed $125,000 to the settlement fund. Maybe that donation played no role in the decision to sue, but then why would party officials dredge up a damaging episode just months before what promises to be a very close election?

The Virginia GOP's answer is that the case is about business, not politics; it is merely a contractual dispute with a private company. But it's not quite that simple. In the eavesdropping case, the law clearly required the GOP to disclose any agreement under which any insurance company might have to pay even part of the resulting financial penalty. In the space on the disclosure form that asked for a list of such agreements, there was just one word: "None." Officials claim the statement was accurate at the time because the insurance company had informed them that the conduct alleged was not covered.

If there were the slightest chance that party officials would challenge the insurer's decision -- and it is now obvious that the possibility did exist -- they should have mentioned the insurance policy. The Democrats settled out of court with the understanding that the Republican Party of Virginia would get a genuine punishment for the actions of its leaders -- and hopefully think twice about spying on the opposition again. It is likely that the disclosure statement was not intended to mislead. Nonetheless, party officials should not attempt to nullify what was a key factor in the settlement agreement just because they think they found a loophole. The Virginia GOP can't have it both ways.