Campaign Finance Confusion in Alexandria?

Campaign Finance Confusion in Alexandria?

A large School Board campaign contribution disclosed three years late.

A major contribution to a School Board candidate’s campaign became known to the public three years late.

On Sept. 17 of this year, Veronica Nolan, a School Board incumbent who’s seeking reelection, filed an amendment to her campaign finance report covering Oct. 1-22, 2015. The amendment added a $27,000 contribution from Leadership for Educational Equity, a nonprofit, on Oct. 22, 2015.

This contribution carried forward to the present, accounting for half of Nolan’s most recently reported campaign fund balance of just over $54,000.

Nolan made an electronic entry in the state’s online reporting program on Nov. 22, 2015 for the full amount. She thought this sufficed for public disclosure.

The entry showed “as publicly available on my individual portal for COMET, the Virginia finance reporting system. … Once I began fundraising in earnest again for reelection, I became aware that my complete list of contributions were not showing up externally (even though they were internally),” she said.

There’s also some discrepancy between certain Department of Elections’ informational resources from 2015 about the applicable reporting deadline for the contribution in question. Certain resources, in agreement with the relevant state statute, say that the regular reporting period ended Oct. 22. In that case, Nolan should’ve disclosed the contribution by the Oct. 26 deadline for that period.

Other documents indicate that the regular reporting period ended Oct. 21, the day before Nolan received the contribution. Citing these, Nolan says she thought the donation in question fell in a one-day gap before the reporting period for “large pre-election contributions” began on Oct. 23. In close proximity to an election, candidates must report donations of $500 or more no later than the day after receiving them, and under no circumstance later than the day before election day. Discerning that the contribution in question fell in neither the regular nor large pre-election reporting periods, she thought to include it in her next regular filing, due Dec. 3. She says she confirmed this later deadline with Department of Elections staff on three occasions.

“So the irony is — when I reported it in [November] — I thought I was reporting it early,” she said. “I was very mindful of this donation back in 2015 and take all of this extremely seriously.”

“It’s definitely common for people to do updates and revisions to initially submitted reports,” said Anna Leider, Alexandria’s general registrar. “Usually it’s to reflect math errors, or sometimes there’s a contribution that they missed. Quite often they find those errors when they’re getting ready to prepare their next report. So sometimes they are later to appear — like when you think you’ve submitted on time and everything’s fine, then you get ready to do your next one and you find something. But usually the errors are smaller.”

What’s atypical about Nolan’s case isn’t the amendment itself, but the size of the contribution and the delay in its becoming publicly viewable. Certain other School Board members also amended their 2015 reports, but usually on the order of a few hundred dollars and not more than a month or so after the fact.

Nolan won’t be fined, since the law allows fines only for late campaign finance report filings, but not for long-after-the-fact amendments, said Leider.