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Dispute Over Western Bypass Campaign Statements

Photo: WINA

Dispute Over Western Bypass Campaign Statements

There’s a dispute over campaign statements made about the western bypass. Albemarle supervisor and bypass supporter Ken Boyd (pictured) says the anti-bypass group known as the Charlottesville Bypass Truth Coalition should register as a political action committee because of statements they’re making in the Board of Supervisors campaign. Boyd claims the group is making endorsements but has not registered as a political action committee as required by state law. He’s filed a formal complaint with the State Board of Elections, and the agency has agreed to review the matter. Boyd is also taking issue with the Bypass Truth Coalition claiming that the supervisors are not transparent in conducting their business. The Bypass Truth Coalition responds by saying they’re part of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Transportation Coalition, which has been a registered 501(c) 4 organization since 1988. They say they don’t have to register with the State Board of Elections because the two coalitions are not political action committees, and they’re not endorsing any candidates, just simply presenting facts. But Ken Boyd says in his complaint that there’s a Twitter feed from the anti-bypass group calling for support of candidates who are not treating the bypass as a done deal. The statement issued Thursday by Ken Boyd is here followed by the response from the Charlottesville Bypass Truth Coalition:

Kenneth C. Boyd

675 Berkmar Circle, Suite 101

Charlottesville, VA 22901

October 30, 2013

Internal Revenue Service                                            Office of the Attorney General

EO Classification                                                        900 East Main Street

1100 Commerce Street                                               Richmond, VA 23219

MC 4910 DAL

Dallas, Texas 75242

Virginia State Board of Elections                               Virginia Department of Agriculture

Washington Building – First Floor                             Office of Charitable & Regulatory Programs

1100 Bank Street                                                        Post Office Box 1163

Richmond, Virginia 23219                                         Richmond, Virginia 23218

 

 

Complaint and Request for Investigation Of

“Charlottesville Bypass Truth Coalition”

To Whom It May Concern:

In the days before Virginia’s off-year general election on November 5, 2013, a group calling itself the “Charlottesville Bypass Truth Coalition” has appeared for the very first time on the political scene and intervened in local elections.  The group is supporting a slate of candidates who oppose construction of a proposed bypass in Albemarle County, Virginia, and opposing pro-bypass candidates.

This group does not appear to be incorporated with the Virginia State Corporation Commission.  It does not appear to be registered as a Section 527 political organization with the Internal Revenue Service.  It does not appear to be registered with the Virginia State Board of Elections.  And yet, it is engaged in express advocacy and sham issue advocacy in connection with four elections for Member of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.

The group operates a website that compares selected candidates’ positions on the issue of bypass construction, and it maintains a Facebook page on which it urges its followers to “take action at the polls on November 5th.”

The group’s activities have not been limited to low-cost or no-cost web-based and social media activity.  The group is running sham issue ads on radio and television which it claims were “Paid for by Charlottesville Bypass Truth Coalition”—evidence that the group must have a bank account that has accepted contributions and made expenditures for the dual purposes of attempting to influence public opinion on the bypass construction issue and attempting to influence the outcome of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors elections.  Indeed, as the attached sales orders indicate, the group has expended many thousands of dollars on the purchase of radio advertising in the past week alone.

Charlottesville Bypass Truth Coalition’s activities to date present several troubling questions.  First, what exactly is the Charlottesville Bypass Truth Coalition?

 

  • Is it a Virginia political committee?  Clearly, it is engaged in express advocacy in connection with Virginia elections, and is making substantial expenditures in doing so.  So why is it not registered with, reporting and disclosing the sources of its funding to the Virginia State Board of Elections?

 

  • Is it a Section 527 political organization that maintains it has not met the threshold requirements for registration, reporting and disclosure in Virginia?  If so, then why has it not filed Form 8871 with the Internal Revenue Service, and why is it not disclosing its donors and other financial information on Form 8872?

 

  • Or is it claiming tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization?  If this is the case, why is it not incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia?  Why is it not registered to conduct charitable solicitations in Virginia?  What is the mission of the organization, and in what other activities and expenditures has the organization engaged in furtherance of its exempt function?[1]

 

The Charlottesville Bypass Truth Coalition obviously is more than one individual acting alone and using only her or his own funds.  So it has to be something.  What is it, and why has it not complied with registration, reporting, disclosure and other requirements?

 

Second, who is behind the Charlottesville Bypass Truth Coalition?  By ignoring legal requirements to register, report and disclose, it has concealed the identities of its organizers and funders.  As the attached sales orders show, the group hid behind a media buyer in the purchase of radio advertising.  The group’s social media platforms similarly yield no information about the identities of its organizers.  And ownership of the group’s web address is hidden behind a Panamanian company.  So who are these people, why are they hiding their identities and will they be permitted to engage anonymously in express advocacy in connection with Virginia elections?[2]

 

Third, given that this group evidently has no regard for the laws requiring it to register, report and disclose information about the sources of its funding and the expenditures it makes, what other laws has it ignored?  In particular, has it been coordinating its activities and expenditures with the four Board of Supervisors candidates it is supporting?  If it has, then the failure to disclose that fact would be yet another legal violation.

 

For all of these reasons, I request an investigation of the tax and registration status of the “Charlottesville Bypass Truth Coalition.”  Specifically, the voters to whom this group has been directing its messages deserve to know what this organization is, who is behind it, and why it has been evading the registration, reporting and disclosure requirements that apply to groups attempting to influence elections and public policy.  Please drag this group out of the shadows, reveal its organizers and the sources of its funding, and fine the people involved to the fullest extent allowed under the law.

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

 

 

Kenneth C. Boyd


[1]           On this point, there is no way to view all of the organization’s activities and expenditures to date as anything other than activities and expenditures made for the purpose of influencing the outcome of elections in favor of specific, clearly-identifiable candidates.  The organization has no history whatsoever of bona fide issue advocacy unrelated to an election, has cropped up in the weeks immediately before an election, is focused on a single issue that it clearly desires to make a wedge issue in the election, and in fact has engaged in clear, express advocacy on and around that same issue.

 

[2]           If this group were in fact a bona fide 501(c)(4) social welfare or advocacy organization, with substantial activities and expenditures made in furtherance of its exempt purpose, then it might lawfully be entitled to donor anonymity.  But here, the group has done nothing but attempt to influence the outcome of Virginia elections.  Thus, it is either (a) not a 501(c)(4) at all, in which case it should be disclosing its donors to the IRS or the Virginia SBE, or (b) a 501(c)(4) that owes taxes on its election intervention expenditures and whose managers should be facing substantial penalties for violating the legal prohibition on excessive election intervention.

RESPONSE FROM CHARLOTTESVILLE BYPASS TRUTH COALITION:

October 31, 2013

In response to Ken Boyd’s outrageous accusations against the Charlottesville Bypass Truth Coalition, members of the Coalition’s Board offer the following response:

We are a group of local parents who are concerned about the impact of the proposed Route 29 Bypass on our children’s schools and our families’ homes as well as the many negative environmental impacts of this Bypass.

Because of our serious concerns about the proposed Bypass, we organized as a group in the late summer of 2013. We are duly registered with Albemarle County and the Commonwealth of Virginia State Corporation Commission as a part of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Transportation Coalition, Inc. which has been a registered 501(c) 4 organization since its incorporation in 1988. Mr. Boyd could have accessed this information by performing a simple search of the records available online at the Virginia State Corporation Commission.

Neither the Charlottesville Bypass Truth Coalition nor the Charlottesville-Albemarle Transportation Coalition are Political Action Committees, and therefore are not required to register with the State Board of Elections. Our mission has been to educate and inform the public about the proposed Bypass and other transportation options for our community for more than twenty-five years. A part of that mission has been to present information on all of the candidates’ positions on the bypass. We have not endorsed any candidates; we have simply presented facts.

It is unfortunate that, at the 11th hour of this political campaign, Mr. Boyd has attempted to divert voters’ attention from the positions taken by the candidates on the Bypass to an attempt to smear a group of concerned parents, grandparents, and residents who are advocating a wiser approach to transportation planning. Had Mr. Boyd contacted us before filing his complaint or calling a press conference, we would have been glad to talk with him.