She worked from a spreadsheet that listed more than a thousand names and the political campaigns to which they had contributed. For weeks earlier this year, she said, she sat in a county office, while on county time, and spent hours calling them, one by one.
The goal was to arrange meetings with the donors and her boss, four-term Loudoun County Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling), one of the region’s most controversial politicians, who is known for his animated diatribes from the dais.
If she was successful, Donna Mateer, a part-time aide, was to list the appointment in a Google calendar titled “Eugene 2012 Campaign Schedule,” she said.
Since then, Mateer came to believe that what she was doing was unethical. She filed a complaint with the county’s Human Resources Department that also alleged a hostile work environment.
Her accusations add to the controversy surrounding Delgaudio, who has publicly denounced gay people as “perverts” and “freaks” and routinely injected himself into heated political battles across the country through his conservative nonprofit group, Public Advocate of the United States.
In particular, Delgaudio has used Public Advocate to rail against same-sex-marriage initiatives in various states and argue that federal anti-bullying legislation and even airport pat-downs are evidence of a “radical homosexual” agenda.
In Loudoun, the veteran supervisor has long been viewed as something of an eccentric, but recently he has gained more widespread attention. This year, Public Advocate was designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. On Tuesday, the civil rights group announced that it would file a federal lawsuit Wednesday claiming that Public Advocate unlawfully used an altered version of a same-sex couple’s engagement photo on anti-gay-marriage campaign literature in Colorado.
Asked about the pending lawsuit Tuesday, Delgaudio said in an e-mail that he was “looking into that.” He did not comment further.
In interviews, he has steadfastly maintained that he has done nothing wrong and strongly denied that he used any county resources to help benefit his political campaign, which would amount to a violation of a county policy that prohibits employees from engaging in political activities “during assigned working hours.”
But three Northern Virginia residents who agreed to meet with Delgaudio told The Washington Post that he sought contributions to his campaign.
Delgaudio acknowledged that some members of his staff were instructed to spend as much as 50 to 60 percent of their time making calls and scheduling meetings for him. But he said the goal was to raise money for one of his favorite community organizations — the Lower Loudoun Boys Football League — and not his campaign.
“I’m simply going to open up a conversation [with the potential donors] and then later, over a period of years, ask them for a large gift for the [football league],” Delgaudio said.
The literature he handed out at the meetings was for his political campaign, however. “I don’t have other documents that describe myself, sadly,” he said.
And in the meetings he spoke at length about his public office and conservative values, which he said could have left some confusion about what the donation was for.
“Yes, I am definitely promoting myself,” Delgaudio said. “I’m definitely pushy. . . . There’s room for confusion. Absolutely.”
But when Bruce Hutchison, a dentist in Fairfax County, met with Delgaudio on Jan. 9, it was clear to Hutchison that the solicitation “was for [Delgaudio] as a politician,” he said.
“He told me that he was very proud of me because I was a good supporter of Republican values,” Hutchinson said. “I didn’t quite get where he was coming from. And then he left me a brochure and said he would be glad to take a donation of any kind.”
Hutchison said he was surprised to receive a call from Delgaudio’s office requesting a meeting because he had never heard of Delgaudio before. “He’s not even my [representative] or anything,” he said.
Two members of the Loudoun business community, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be associated with Delgaudio’s activities, also said Delgaudio spoke of his political interests and requested campaign donations during meetings scheduled by Mateer early this year.
“I don’t recall that he set an amount, but it was suggested that if I was so inclined and felt that I was aligned with some of his positions and views . . . that he would gladly accept” a contribution, one Loudoun man said. “He was obviously soliciting funds to continue his campaign.”
Hutchison could not recall if he wrote a check or not but said it would have been no more than a token amount, small enough so that it would not be required to show up on a campaign finance report. The other two said they did not contribute.
Through his role as president of Public Advocate, he has also distributed a steady stream of newsletters and mass mailings advocating his conservative causes and frequently prompting condemnation from equality groups. One e-mail last year depicted a murder scene with blood stains in the colors of a rainbow, a symbol of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Before Mateer’s first meeting with Delgaudio in the summer of 2011, she knew little about his role with Public Advocate. But the first sign that working for the supervisor would not be what she had expected came during the job interview, held at a Chick-fil-A – a restaurant chain Delgaudio has championed because its president opposes same-sex marriage.
The supervisor wanted to know her views on homosexuality, she said. Was she “pro-marriage,” “pro-life,” “right-wing”? Was she a Christian, a Catholic? How many times had she been married? Where did her children go to school?
She suspected he was not supposed to be asking such questions, but she was looking for work, so she put her concerns aside.
“It kind of made me feel weird, but I needed the job,” said Mateer, whose accusations have not been previously reported.
Once on the job, Mateer, like several of his other aides, was instructed by Delgaudio to enroll in courses at the conservative Leadership Institute aimed to enhance their political savvy — including classes such as High Dollar Fundraising, Campaign Management and Online Activism, according to e-mails from Delgaudio to the aides that were obtained by The Post.
“He said he wanted me to learn how to raise big campaign bucks,” Mateer said.
Delgaudio’s nonprofit group, Public Advocate, paid the enrollment fees for the courses, according to the e-mails and interviews. Public Advocate, for which Delgaudio raises more than $1 million annually, also provided the spreadsheet of Republican donors from across Northern Virginia, according to the e-mails.
Mateer began the job of calling the names on the list, which included notes in the margins, such as “top fundraiser for delgaudio,” or “will not donate to delgaudio” or “waste of time . . . is a democrat.”
Mateer said Delgaudio — who is regularly among the county’s top political fundraisers, collecting more than $100,000 per election cycle — was emphatic that the meetings not be recorded outside the Google campaign calendar.
Mateer also said Delgaudio told her not to talk to either of her co-workers about the project. But when the two other women asked what she had been working on, she showed them the spreadsheets, which were obtained by The Post.
Concerned, one of the aides questioned Delgaudio in January about Mateer’s project. According to that aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, Delgaudio told her that she was to have nothing to do with it. The aide resigned within days.
The other aide was also alarmed by the fundraising calls. She said that there had been times in the past when she had to “steer [Delgaudio] back” when his behavior crossed a line toward conducting campaign work on county time — including one instance when he asked his aides to assemble campaign mailers during work hours.
He was generally receptive to her reminders, she said. But when Delgaudio instructed her and Mateer to develop new fundraising lists from existing groups of established political donors — promising in e-mails obtained by The Post that they would “receive a cash bonus” if they did so — the aide said that was a final straw, and she also resigned.
“He is flagrantly violating policy, and I can’t work for a man like that,” she said.
After the senior aides resigned, Mateer said that Hannah Scoggins, Delgaudio’s office manager at Public Advocate, became her de facto supervisor.
“I was to go through [Scoggins] for everything,” Mateer said. “[Delgaudio] put the Public Advocate office in charge of a public office.”
Scoggins declined to comment about the interaction between Public Advocate and Delgaudio’s county office.
In March, less than a year after Mateer had been hired, she was fired. When Delgaudio called Mateer into his office to let her go, he told her the problem was that she was “not political,” she said.
Hours before, Mateer had spoken with county human resources officials. At their request, she later filed a lengthy statement detailing her concerns, she said — including the allegation that Delgaudio frequently went on racist and homophobic rants and berated his employees in the workplace.
In the days before she was fired, Mateer collected e-mails and documents, including the lists of names used to schedule fundraising appointments. She has since turned many of them over to FBI agents, who interviewed her in late July about Delgaudio’s fundraising practices and his involvement with Public Advocate.
Three other former aides have told The Post that they have also been recently questioned about Delgaudio by FBI agents.
Spokesmen for the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia both said they could neither confirm nor deny an investigation.
Delgaudio strongly denied that the project assigned to Mateer was intended to benefit his political campaign. “The only purpose of these fundraising lists is for the Lower Loudoun Boys Football League,” he said, adding that any misunderstanding on the part of his aides was a result of improper training.
He declined to comment specifically on any of his former aides, their work or their concerns about the tasks he had assigned them.
Delgaudio also said he did not see a problem with having Public Advocate work so closely with his county office, noting that his employees have to coordinate with one another to keep track of where he is and what he needs to do.
“You’re going to micromanage how I conduct my two jobs?” Delgaudio said. “I think that’s really absurd.”
Delgaudio also called the accusations of an abusive work environment “absurd” and said he offered a family-friendly workplace: His aides were even permitted to bring their children to the office.
As for the allegation that he made racist and homophobic comments, Delgaudio said that his comments — like his public political stunts — were not to be taken personally.
“You have to have some sense of humor,” he said.
Mateer said her complaint has gone nowhere. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) initially contacted her to request copies of her records and asked whether she would be willing to come forward, she said. Mateer and one of Delgaudio’s senior aides have since tried to contact York but have not received a response from him or from the county, they said.
In an interview, York said there was nothing that could be done about Mateer’s claims of a hostile work environment; part-time county aides are not protected by the county’s grievance policy.