The State Board of Elections has approved a $2,000 fine on Republican Ed Gillespie’s 2017 gubernatorial campaign for violating the rule on identifying the sponsor of political ads.
The penalty was imposed despite both parties asking the board to dismiss complaints they each filed against the other during the campaign.
The board voted 2-0-1 May 21 to assess the penalty for violations involving two Gillespie television ads.
As required by Virginia’s stand-by-your-ad laws, Gillespie included written and spoken notices saying he authorized the ads. But the campaign ran afoul of a rule that says there can be no other text on the screen while the written notice is visible, a requirement meant to give viewers an unobstructed look at the person who approved the ad.
In the two Gillespie ads, text directing viewers to the campaign website appeared next to the notice, a violation that meant a $1,000 fine for each offense.
The board dismissed a complaint against the Northam campaign that claimed a profile shot of Northam holding up a baby fell short of the rule requiring an unobstructed image of the candidate.
Both complaints were filed in September. The Republican complaint against Northam came first.
The two Democratic members of the elections board — Chairman James Alcorn and Singleton McAllister — voted in favor of the fine. Republican Clara Belle Wheeler abstained after voicing incredulity at the idea of imposing substantial fines despite the two parties agreeing to drop the issue.
Even though the political combatants decided to stand down, Alcorn said the board still had a responsibility to enforce the rules. “They’re not there to protect other candidates,” Alcorn said. “They’re there to protect voters.”
When a driver runs a red light, Alcorn said, the police still write a ticket regardless of how other motorists feel.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch said penalties for stand-by-your-ad violations usually involve minor fines for infractions involving printed flyers, mailers or yard signs. Several election officials told the newspaper they could not recall another instance of the board considering disclosure violations for TV ads.
The board also handed out smaller penalties for violations in state and local races during the 2017 cycle.
The board levied a $200 fine on the campaign of Del. Cheryl Turpin, D-Virginia Beach, for a flyer that featured the name of her opponent, former Republican Del. Rocky Holcomb, scratched out and replaced with the word “racist.” Because the flyer referenced a specific candidate, Turpin had to disclose that she personally approved it. Instead, the ad’s notice said it was sponsored by “Cheryl Turpin for VB,” the name of Turpin’s campaign committee.
The board assessed a $50 fine on the campaign of Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William, for a positive mailer that didn’t include the required sponsor notice.