VIRGINIA BEACH – State elections officials have fined a nonprofit organization based in Virginia Beach that made a series of surprise endorsements on Election Day for failing to file as a political action committee last year.
State Elections Commissioner Chris Piper on Wednesday, Feb. 12, wrote in a letter to Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle that the Virginia Beach Teachers’ Association failed to file as a PAC within 10 days of its organization.
The penalty for this violation of state law governing campaign finance is $500, Piper wrote, and the committee has until Tuesday, March 31, to pay.
Stolle in January referred his office’s review of a complaint against the VBTA to Piper for possible action. The commonwealth’s attorney wrote that the VBTA may have violated the law by failing to file as a PAC in a timely manner or file a campaign finance report.
Such information allows the public to have basic information about organizations that try to persuade voters. The financial disclosure reports show contributions to such groups and how they spend that money.
The VBTA filed its statement of organization as a PAC in January. It also filed two campaign finance reports, though only one of the reports was late. The VBTA was fined $100 for the late campaign finance report, according to Andrea Gaines, a spokesperson for the state elections department.
Stolle’s January letter to Piper noted that “fliers and signs were distributed and posted at voting precincts” on Election Day by the VBTA to endorse candidates. Endorsements were made in local, constitutional office and General Assembly races.
Piper wrote that elections officials might only refer the matter back to Stolle for action if the penalty against the VBTA cannot be collected..
The VBTA, which was formed by Virginia Beach School Board Member Laura Hughes, endorsed a number of state and local candidates by posting signs at polling locations and passing out a list of endorsed candidates to voters.
The group was virtually unknown before it arrived at polling locations, though. At the time, Hughes told reporters the VBTA was operating as a 501(c)4 nonprofit.
As The Independent News first reported in November, such organizations are allowed to engage in some political activities, but, under state law, they are not exempt from campaign finance disclosure requirements in Virginia when they endorse candidates.
A campaign finance report filed in January shows the group paid for an application with the IRS for designation as a nonprofit a week after the election. The VBTA has not responded to an emailed request by The Independent News for information nonprofits generally provide to the public.
Kendra Edwards, treasurer for the VBTA, referred a reporter to Hughes for comment on Thursday, Feb. 13. Hughes did not return a call on Thursday, Feb. 13. Hughes previously has declined interview requests.
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