Supervisor Ken Boyd yesterday requested investigation of the pro-Democrat advocacy group—by the Internal Revenue Service, the Virginia Attorney General’s office, the Virginia State Board of Elections, and the Virginia Department of Agriculture—citing advertising irregularities and possible violations of election law.
In response to Boyd’s letter the Charlottesville Bypass Truth Coalition states “we have not endorsed any candidates;” however, tweets posted on the Coalition’s website run contrary to that claim.
Read Ken Boyd’s full letter below:
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.
For instance, at 11:25 a.m. on October 26, the group tweeted:
The group tweeted again, at 12:31 p.m. on October 27:
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.
And lest anyone think that the group’s activities to date should be viewed as isolated and incidental, the group has boasted:
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?[i]
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?[ii]
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.
Kenneth C. Boyd
[i] 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.
[ii] 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.