In the race for state Sen. Warren Barry's vacated seat in the 37th District, Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli of Centreville and Cathy Belter of Springfield have been taking political potshots at each other.
But Cuccinelli inadvertently gave his opponent some free ammunition Monday when he missed the deadline for filing his campaign-contribution records.
"He was supposed to file with both this office and the local [Fairfax County] office," said Monica Cousins, campaign-finance administrator with the Virginia State Board of Elections in Richmond. "The original was supposed to be postmarked by [Monday], and a copy was supposed to be faxed to us by 5 p.m."
By late Tuesday afternoon, she still hadn't received the fax. She said the slip-up doesn't disqualify Cuccinelli from running or being elected to office. But, said Cousins, he'll have to pay a civil penalty of $100 and must file the necessary reports before taking office (if he wins).
The special election is Tuesday, Aug. 6, and Belter's campaign said Cuccinelli's filing fiasco is "still another example of why [he] should not be going to Richmond." Said spokeswoman Janice Spector: "The filing deadlines are not arbitrary ... Cuccinelli has chosen not to follow those rules."
But Cuccinelli said it wasn't intentional and chalked it up to human error on the part of his campaign volunteers. "In a compressed, special election like this, mistakes are bound to be made by both sides," he said. "We are committed to full disclosure. Anyone interested may come by our campaign headquarters and review the contribution checks we have received this month."
IN A SPECIAL ELECTION, said Cousins, "Generally, candidates are up on their filing requirements. They usually comply quicker than for a regular November election." Cuccinelli said he mailed his report to the state Monday and sent the fax Tuesday.
Calling it an "honest clerical error," he said he didn't find out until just before 5 p.m. Monday that there was a problem. "I've been more focused on campaigning than administrative matters," he said. "The scramble was to get it finished by 5 and get it filed."
But Maggi Luca, secretary of the county Electoral Board, said he didn't make the county's deadline, either; he filed "shortly after 5 p.m."
Cuccinelli's wife Teiro was his campaign treasurer until two weeks ago, when she gave birth to their fifth daughter. "So I think several deposits came in that weren't properly recorded in our books [once she left]," he said. "There was a problem with the handoff, and it snowballed."
He planned to meet with the county Electoral Board on Wednesday to resolve things. And he's adding more volunteers. "The plusses of a grassroots campaign are the enthusiasm and commitment of the participants," he said. "But it's a more chaotic environment, and that results sometimes in shortcomings."
AND CUCCINELLI may have further problems, said Cousins. After July 24, any contributions above $500 from a single source must be reported electronically to the state within 24 hours. Cuccinelli said he received some over the weekend, but Cousins said she wasn't notified of them. Such cases are considered "willful violations," she said, and the offender must pay $500 for each one.
Cousins said Belter has reported 25 such donations totaling $80,215 — and 16 of them were since July 24. On Monday, her campaign reported a total contribution amount of some $160,000.
Cuccinelli said he had $40,000 "on hand" Tuesday. As for the report he filed with the county, Luca examined it Tuesday morning and "was confused that it was such a mess. Nothing adds up — it's all incorrect. He has 10 days to correct it without being fined." It eventually totaled $122,400.
She also discovered another problem. She said Cuccinelli filed a statement of organization, Jan. 15, saying he was running for office. He included his financial report — which showed campaign contributions dating back to November.
"You are illegal if you collect or spend a penny without filing a statement of organization saying you want to be a candidate," said Luca. "I really don't know what he was thinking. He should have filed [that] statement upon receiving the very first check."
Cousins said Cuccinelli also should have established a campaign bank account within 10 days of receiving the first contribution. Otherwise, he could be fined $50. Cuccinelli said he opened the bank account on time, but didn't file the political paperwork until January. "I complied with the spirit of the law," he said, adding that Dixie Walker of the county Electoral Board said his actions didn't warrant any punishment.
He also noted that, when he chaired the Virginia Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Advisory Committee from 1997-99, he was in charge of a multi-million-dollar budget and had no problems. "We met all our deadlines without a hitch and improved the budgeting process," he said. "So I have a proven record in successfully handling budgets."