The Virginia Board of Elections voted unanimously Friday to assess a $500 civil fine against Harry Wiggins, former chairman of the Prince William County Democratic Committee, in connection with campaign activity local Republicans say was intended to affect the outcome of last month’s special election for school board chairman.
The local GOP committee says red signs reading “Republicans for Stanley Bender," placed at 34 polling places, were intended to confuse voters with misinformation about which candidate the GOP endorsed in the nonpartisan race. The group filed a formal complaint with the state board in response.
There were three contenders for the school board chairmanship: Democratic Committee-endorsed Dr. Babur Lateef, who had been serving as interim chair; School Board member Alyson Satterwhite (Gainesville), who was endorsed by the GOP committee; and Stanley Bender, who did not run with a party endorsement.
Lateef won the election with more than 47 percent of the vote. Satterwhite garnered about 41 percent, while Bender, who ran a largely passive campaign, spending no campaign funds, received 9.5 percent of the vote.
On Nov. 16, Bill Card, chairman of the Prince William County Republican Committee, mailed a formal letter of complaint to the State Board of Elections. It called for an investigation into an “illegal” political action committee formed by Wiggins, who was listed as the treasurer of Republicans for Stanley Bender, according to state filings.
Card’s letter – copied to the Prince William Commonwealth Attorney Paul Ebert and General Registrar Michele L. White – stated that: “On November 6, Mr. Wiggin’s (sic) PAC placed several campaign signs at each of the polling places in Prince William County with its name in large letters for the obvious purpose of encouraging Republican voters to support Mr. Bender rather than the candidate endorsed by the Prince William County Republican Committee.”
Calling the deed a “surprise election day strategy,” Card’s letter listed two sections of election law he alleged were broken by Wiggins’ PAC: Using a candidate’s name in the name of political committee without authorization or notice and not filing independent expenditures within 24 hours of the expenditure.
The letter included an affidavit signed by Stanley Bender stating, “I have provided no authorization…or received any notice…regarding the use of my name in the name of any political action committee.”
“Based on Mr. Wiggins’ willful conduct and the failure of the PAC to abide by the Commonwealth’s campaign finance laws," it said, "a civil penalty should be assessed and Mr. Wiggins’ (sic) should be prosecuted for a Class 1 Misdemeanor.”
Addressing the Board of Elections in Richmond Friday, Card, accompanied by more than a dozen fellow committee members, said, “Right here in Prince William County, we have voter fraud conspiracy. This is a larger conspiracy than a misfiling date.”
Card said that Wiggins’ PAC and its placement of signs at polling places across the county not only violated election laws but was designed to deceive the public and siphon votes from the Republican Party-backed candidate, Satterwhite.
“Mr. Wiggins’ dirty tricks have been going on for years,” he said.
As he spoke, Card held up one of the “Republicans for Stanley Bender” signs followed by three more from campaigns he said go back to 2013. He showed a record of a $480 donation to Lateef’s campaign. He showed a Facebook photograph showing Wiggins at the Lateef victory party last month.
After several more committee members implored immediate relief of some kind, State Board of Elections Chairman James Alcorn thanked Card and said, “Until now, the Board had no information about the background to this complaint.”
Alcorn then explained the board’s authority is limited to imposition of a fine for improper PAC application. He said any criminal action is in the domain of the commonwealth's attorney.
Alcorn then announced the board would assess a $500 penalty. “Because the application was never completed, despite our request for further documentation, and those facts are not going to change,” Alcorn said.
Wiggins had filed part of a “statement of organization” with the Virginia Department of Elections to launch the PAC but he failed to respond to a request for additional documentation.
“I understand the limitations of the board,” Card said in the hallway after the meeting. “But this is just the beginning, not the end,” he said, referring to the ongoing criminal probe.
The PAC is under investigation by a Loudoun County prosecutor who was assigned to the case after Ebert, also a Democrat, recused himself because of his past ties to Wiggins and the Democratic committee.
Wiggins could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. He has so far declined to return numerous requests for comment since the Nov. 6 election.
Reach Karen Chaffraix at kchaffraix@Fauquier.com.