Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert said Monday he will name a special prosecutor to investigate “Republicans for Stanley Bender,” a political action committee accused of breaking state laws to help Dr. Babur Lateef win the Nov. 6 special election for chairman of the county school board.
Ebert, a Democrat, said he could not investigate the allegations because of his ties to the Prince William County Democratic Committee.
In a telephone interview, Ebert said he would appoint a special prosecutor soon to look into whether the controversial PAC, launched by Harry Wiggins, a former chairman of the Prince William County Democratic Committee, violated Virginia laws governing PACs by posting signs declaring “Republicans for Stanley Bender” outside some Prince William County polling places on Election Day.
Local Republicans have condemned Wiggins and the signs as an attempt to confuse voters. Bender ran for the school board chairman’s seat without a political endorsement. The local GOP committee endorsed Alyson Satterwhite, who has represented the Gainesville District on the school board since 2012.
Satterwhite lost the special election to Lateef, who was endorsed by the Prince William County Democratic Committee.
Lateef garnered 73,247 votes, or 47.7 percent of the total cast. Satterwhite collected 63,827 votes, about 41.6 percent, while Bender received 14,715 votes or about 9.5 percent.
Of the three candidates, Lateef raised and spent the most money on his campaign, taking in more than $146,000 in donations and spending about $89,000, according to the most recent campaign finance reports filed with the state department of elections.
Satterwhite raised $19,544 and spent $13,985. Bender raised just $100 but spent none of it, according to reports filed with the state.
Local Republicans have raised questions about how a candidate who spent no money and ran a mostly passive campaign managed to win the support of nearly 10 percent of the county electorate.
In a formal complaint filed Nov. 16 with the Virginia Department of Elections and Prince William County Registrar Michelle White, the Prince William County Republican Committee alleges Republicans for Stanley Bender violated two state statutes.
The PAC failed to receive Bender’s permission to use his name and failed to file an expense disclosure report, which is required of any PAC that spends more than $200, the complaint alleges.
The committee’s complaint includes an affidavit signed by Bender in which he states he never gave permission for the PAC to use his name.
In an interview after the election, Bender similarly told the Prince William Times he’d never been contacted by the PAC or Wiggins.
A statement of organization filed with the Virginia Department of Elections on Oct. 24 lists Wiggins as the treasurer of the Republicans for Stanley Bender. Wiggins has so far not returned several calls for comment.
“Mr. Wiggins’ conduct in this regard appears to have been willful,” the GOP complaint says of Wiggins’ use of Bender’s name without his permission. “As a three-time chairman of a party committee in one of the largest counties in the commonwealth, he must be familiar with campaign finance laws.”
The complaint goes on to state: “The obvious purpose of the PAC was to encourage Republicans to vote for Mr. Bender rather than the candidate who actually received the endorsement of the Prince William County Republican Committee.”
Satterwhite held a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 7, in front of the school division’s Edward L. Kelly Leadership Center along with Prince William County Supervisors Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville. The three called for an investigation into the PAC.
Satterwhite conceded the race to Lateef the next day.
Both Lateef and Don Shaw, the current chairman of the Prince William County Democratic Committee, distanced themselves from the PAC and Wiggins soon after the red “Republicans for Stanley Bender” signs surfaced.
On Nov. 7, Lateef issued a statement saying: “My campaign does not condone those actions and we strongly condemn them, period.”