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Candidates Behaving Badly, Virginia Division

When the top official in the county sends out a mailing to every resident less than a month before that official is standing for reelection, and when that mailing costs $31,000 in tax dollars, and when the mailing does nothing but remind voters that that same official's pet proposal is coming up for a vote today, something's fishy.

That's the story in Prince William County, where Corey Stewart, chairman of the board of supervisors, last week used his discretionary fund to mail 128,000 fliers--a scanned copy of the piece is here-- just to remind voters that Stewart's tough stance on illegal immigration is resulting in action. The public hearing on the proposal to crack down on illegal immigrants took place weeks ago; the opportunity for public comment at today's meeting is limited at best. So why does the public need to have its money spent for this reminder of a regularly scheduled meeting?

Because "The reality is I feel the vote is in jeopardy, and I believe it is my duty to . . . keep my constituents informed," Stewart told the Post's Christy Goodman.

Or because "not everybody reads the newspaper," Stewart told the Potomac News.

Oh, goodness. The county's top prosecutor, Paul Ebert, said he's appointing a special prosecutor to look into Stewart's use of public dollars for this obvious campaign stunt. Stewart, in turn, accuses Ebert of playing politics. Stewart is a Republican; Ebert is a Democrat.

But party affiliation is not what's determining who's outraged by Stewart's clumsy move. Check this from the board's vice chairman, Martin Nohe, a Republican. "I don't think there are a whole lot of people in the county who aren't aware we are discussing immigration policy," he told the Post. Stewart could have used the county's own cable system or printing press, Nohe noted.

It's not like there's any shortage of ways in which county supervisors meetings are publicized, and when the public is fired up about an issue, they show up in droves. I've been to supervisors meetings in Prince William where the overflow spilled out into the parking lot; decisions on major development projects draw that kind of crowd, and so did the illegal immigration hearing that led to today's vote on the proposal. Stewart's excuse is pretty lame.

But Stewart's usurpation of public money to push his campaign against Democratic challenger Sharon Pandak is not the sleaziest campaign tactic of the week. That honor goes to Democratic legislative candidate Rex Simmons, who struck out against his opponent, incumbent GOP Delegate Tim Hugo with a mailing that seeks to tie Hugo to, of all things, the torture tactics used by Americans at Abu Ghraib. Hugo and Simmons are running in the 40th District, in the Centreville and Clifton area of Fairfax County.

Follow closely now: Simmons alleges in the mailing that "Tim Hugo's lobbying firm represents the ones who were responsible for torture abuses at Abu Ghraib." Hugo's day job is at The Livingston Group, the Capitol Hill lobbying firm run by former almost-House Speaker Bob Livingston. The Livingston Group was retained and paid $20,000 in 2004 to lobby on behalf of CACI International, a company that had a contract to provide interrogators to the U.S. military for work at the detention center at Abu Ghraib. A CACI interrogator was accused of encouraging the torture of Iraqi prisoners, and other CACI employees were accused of abusing prisoners by pouring water on them while they were placed in "stress positions."

But Livingston Group says it was hired by CACI to lobby on behalf of the company's plan for a training center in Louisiana--not for any work in Iraq. And Hugo didn't even join Livingston Group until 2005, while Livingston's work for CACI ended in 2004.

Not only is there no beef here, there's not even a whiff of anything non-vegetable.

But that didn't stop Simmons from sending out a scurrilous campaign flier. This is not Simmons' first foray into questionable campaign tactics. His first video ad sought to tie Hugo to Dick Cheney, but all he could come up with was that Hugo once worked with Cheney and came to admire him. Pretty far-fetched. But not nearly as sleazy as this Abu Ghraib grab.

As if these two moves weren't disappointing enough, the sad fact is that both Stewart and Simmons were in good shape before their shady moves--neither was guaranteed victory, but both were in close races with strong headwinds in their favor. Now, they've done themselves considerable damage. If they lose as a result, that will be satisfying not only to their political opponents, but to all voters who crave decent discourse and a fair fight.

By Marc Fisher |  October 16, 2007; 6:01 AM ET
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Comments

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Who does Tim Hugo represent? My district. Dont think so. The Speaker of the Va House's district and VA Republican party you betta ya!.Hugo wouldnt know the issues in his district if they bit him you know where. I am an independent and voting for his opponent in protest. Only thing Hugo has going for him is he doesnt home school his spawn like our wonderful Senator who like Hugo doesnt represent the interest of his district but those of the Va Republican party. I am pro life but Cucinelli makes me look look a planned parenthood late term abortion supporter. Both these fools need to go so we cna have someone anyone who represents their constituents not the Republican Party of VA.

Posted by: Clifton, VA resident | October 16, 2007 7:32 AM

Somehow, Clifton, you assume that your views are the only ones that need representing and are the views of the majority of the district. Even if they are, a delegate represents the whole district, not just the people who voted for him.

Posted by: Stick | October 16, 2007 7:44 AM

Isn't having an "R" after your name tantamount to supporting torture? I mean, if you had any sort of principles, wouldn't you change parties? Being associated with the fascist party of totalitarianism should be unacceptable, if, as I said, you had any sort of democratic principles.

So, no, Marc, I don't consider that sleazy at all. It's what happens when you remain in the totalitarian party.

Posted by: Bryan | October 16, 2007 8:20 AM

That's not torture. Torture is electric drills to the body, cigarette burns, beatings, dentist drills, sawing peoples heads off with butcher knives, physical stuff. Like the Islamofascists do everyday.

Posted by: Stick | October 16, 2007 8:37 AM

Hey, Stick, you know we prosecuted people for torture when they engaged in waterboarding and extreme temperatures, right? Or did you forget that piece of history? Maybe you should ask our soldiers whether they would like to be "not-tortured" the way Bush doesn't torture.

Posted by: Bryan | October 16, 2007 8:46 AM

Actually, even harsh language is considered torture by the bleeding hearts.

So put a sock in it Bryan, you are torturing us.

Posted by: Really? | October 16, 2007 9:33 AM

Wow Marc way to steal stories from the Virginia Blogosphere

Why does the post pay you again?

Posted by: um this is new? | October 16, 2007 10:58 AM

Curiously missing from your commentary, Marc, is reference to that for which most Supervisors use their slush ... er, "discretionary" funds: contributions to their favorite charities.

Given the choice between that and a well-timed, politically-neutral (your mischaracterization to the contrary notwithstanding) notice of an impending vote on an issue of public importance (I note how Nohe managed to miss the point, as usual), Stewart's action is perfectly acceptable.

Probably more appropriate than those of his colleagues.

Posted by: James Young | October 16, 2007 1:52 PM

The news of Abu Gharaib came out in April 2004. Anyone who voted for Bush 6 months later implicitly approved of it.

It'll be interesting to see if there is an afterlife and whether such complicity is punished by a deity. (Personally, I think the religious hoo-haa is all made up.)

And one commenter above is correct in saying that this story was partially stolen from the Virginia blogoshpere. One more reason hard copy papers are going down the tubes.

The Connection newspapers had better stuff on Hugo than the Post.

Posted by: Used2bgop | October 16, 2007 2:38 PM

In determining the legality of Stewart's mailer, it is the content of the mailer itself that must be scrutinized. Was there anything contained in it that would rise to the level of "electioneering" as defined by the law? No. None of the key words that are necessary for something to be considered an electioneering communication such as "Vote For," "Vote Against," "Elect" or "Support" a particular candidate were present.

The question then becomes, were any words used to encourage support of or opposition to the resolution that would make this mailer a lobbying piece? Again, the answer is no. Some have complained about words such as "crackdown" being loaded terms, but that could just as easily be viewed negatively as it is positively.

Some have questioned why Stewart sent out a postcard mailer to every home in the county announcing the vote. Well, yesterday's Potomac News made Corey's point for sending out the mailer.

"Supervisors to vote on proffer increase" was the title of their article about today's meeting.

Not until the final three paragraphs of the article - after the part of the article about increasing proffers and another part about parks, open space and trails - was there even any aside about this vote on immigration.

If Paul Ebert proceeds on this politically motivated witch hunt, he can thank the Potomac News for supplying what should be "Exhibit A" in Corey Stewart's complete exhonoration.

I look forward to investigations of Ebert by the U.S. Attorney's Public Integrity section of the Criminal Division, the VA Attorney General's office and the VA bar. Stay tuned. You'll be hearing a lot more about all three soon enough!

Posted by: Riley | October 16, 2007 3:41 PM

Curious. Why is a Republican's alleged misstep the lead, while "the sleaziest campaign tactic of the week" doesn't make it until the eighth 'graph?

Your biases are showing.

Posted by: James Young | October 18, 2007 11:49 AM

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