Serpentine II: UVa Dean fundraising/campaigning for Democrats on Grounds

| October 7, 2015 | 1 Comments

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University of Virginia School of Nursing Dean, Dorrie Fontaine, has been busy campaigning and fundraising on Grounds for Democrat candidates using University-owned resources—in spite of her actions jeopardizing UVa’s tax-exempt status.

As previously reported by The Schilling Show, a re-election campaign event for Democrat Commonwealth’s Attorney, Denise Lunsford, was held in Fontaine’s residence, Pavilion IX, on October 1.

In addition to Lunsford, the Fontaine-hosted “meet and greet” featured fellow Democrat, Jon Zug, who is running for Albemarle County Clerk of Circuit Court.

The Cavalier Daily describes the event as clearly political:

The event was hosted by Nursing School Dean, Dorrie Fontaine. Students, volunteers and campaign organizers attended, as well as Jon Zug, a colleague of Lunsford and current candidate for Clerk of Court for Albemarle County.

University student campaign volunteers helped organize the event with the goal of giving Lunsford and Zug a platform to reach out to University students and other people in the community.

The story further notes that the meeting’s purpose was to get UVa students to cast votes for the featured Democrats in the November 3 election:

This event was also a push to get students to take part in the upcoming election that will determine whether Lunsford remains Albemarle County Commonwealth’s attorney. The election will take place Nov. 3 and registration closes on Oct. 13.

A Facebook invitation to the event specified that voter registration would be available on premises.

But this was not the first time that Dean Fontaine has hosted partisan political gatherings using University resources.

Gallaway-Facebook-InviteThe Schilling Show has learned that on August 2, Fontaine brazenly hosted an on-Grounds, high-dollar fundraising soiree for Democrat Ned Gallaway, a candidate for Virginia State Senate, District 17, whose on-line invitation actually referenced the University of Virginia. Co-hosting this gathering were two prominent elected Democrats who also happen to be attorneys (and should have know that they were violating University policy and possibly the law): Attorney General, Mark Herring, and Virginia House Minority Leader, David Toscano.

The American Council on Education states that single-sided political events are verboten for tax-exempt institutions of higher learning, such as the University of Virginia:

There are certain uses of institutional resources that are clearly off limits. An institution simply cannot help a candidate with fundraising, cannot reimburse employees for campaign contributions, and cannot sponsor events that favor a particular candidate. Simply put, the biased use of resources is unacceptable in all cases. [emphasis added]

The Council also notes that partisan voter registration efforts, like the one held in Dean Fontaine’s on-Grounds residence, may attract unwanted attention from the Internal Revenue Service:

Voter education, voter registration, and get-out-the-vote campaigns: These are areas where nonprofits, including colleges and universities, have a particular tendency to draw IRS ire. Even subtle bias is strictly forbidden. For example, it would be impermissible for voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns to target voters from a particular party or court supporters for a particular candidate.

Attorney Milton Cerny, formerly of McGuireWoods issues a warning on partisan campus activities, vis a vis the IRS, in his white paper, Political Electioneering On Campus:

When a candidate is invited to speak at an organization event in his or her capacity as a political candidate, factors in determining whether the organization participated or intervened in a political campaign include the following:

  • Whether the organization provides an equal opportunity to participate to political candidates seeking the same office.
  • Whether the organization indicates any support for or opposition to the candidate (including candidate introductions and communications concerning the candidate’s attendance).
  • Whether the candidate’s statement is delivered close in time to the election.
  • Whether the statement makes reference to voting or an election. [emphasis added]
  • Whether the issue addressed in the communication has been raised as an issue distinguishing candidates for a given office.
  • Whether the communication is part of an ongoing series of communications by the organization on an issue that they cover independently of the timing of any election.
  • Whether the timing of the communication and identification of the candidate are related to a nonelectoral event such as a scheduled vote on specific legislation by an officeholder who also happens to be a candidate for public office.

Fontaine’s UVa-supported events patently violate many of these tenets.

When confronted with information about the Lunsford event, University of Virginia spokesperson, Anthony de Bruyn, claimed that since the property is “leased” to Dean Dorire Fontaine, University of Virginia policies do not apply:

The University owns the property, but it is leased to Ms. Fontaine as her private residence. Accordingly, the terms of the lease control the use of the property – not the general University policy on resources or space. As a lessee, Ms. Fontaine is free to host private events in her home with guests of her choosing.

However, nothing in Fontaine’s lease exempts her from following any University of Virginia policy, or specifically policy HRM-011, which plainly constrains partisan politicking:

The University is prohibited by federal tax law as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, from directly or indirectly providing resources to support a political campaign.

Following Mr. de Bruyn’s logic, would UVa interpret Dean Fontaine’s lease to permit her hosting an event that discriminates on the basis of race, gender, or religion? If not, why not? University policy also prohibits these forms of discrimination.

The use of a subsidized, leased structure—owned, maintained, and situated on the tax-exempt property of the University of Virginia—to promote and/or raise funds for political candidacies, is de facto “support.” In this case, support provided by UVa via individual Virginians, whose tax dollars fund the University and legally are protected from such misuse.

The University’s laissez faire attitude toward Fontaine’s possible abuses of law and policy is dangerous, at best, and possibly far worse.

IRS, are you listening?

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About the Author:

Rob Schilling is founder of The Schilling Show Blog and News; host of WINA's The Schilling Show, heard weekdays from noon to 2 PM; husband; father; and community watchdog.
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1 Comment on "Serpentine II: UVa Dean fundraising/campaigning for Democrats on Grounds"

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  1. SRC says:

    Not the first time a Lunsford campaign has acted, at minimum, recklessly–anyone remember a PAC a few years ago??

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