Cuccinelli pushes higher filing fees at state Republican conventions
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) is encouraging the state GOP's governing board to adopt dramatically higher filing fees for statewide candidates seeking the party's nomination at political conventions.
Cuccinelli's political director Noah Wall attended a meeting of the Virginia Republican State Central Committee Saturday to encourage the proposal, calling for gubernatorial candidates to pay up to $50,000 for a spot at the party's nominating convention.
He suggested up to $25,000 for lieutenant governor and attorney general candidates, as well as fees for delegates attending the convention.
In an interview, Cuccinelli said higher fees would help defray convention costs for the party, ensuring conventions are a financially viable option for the party. He said the state party was forced into the red by the 2009 shindig where he, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) were nominated for office.
But some Republican activists worry that raising filing fees could shut out unconventional candidates who have trouble paying the hefty fees to get into the nominating process. The move is also likely to be seen as a way to ensure the party chooses a convention to nominate its gubernatorial candidate in 2013, a nomination process that favors more conservative candidates who are popular with the party's grassroots -- like Cuccinelli.
Cuccinelli responded that even with higher filing fees, conventions are cheaper for candidates than primaries, making them a better option for non-traditional candidates. And he denied that the move has anything to do with his own political future.
The costs of holding primary elections are paid by taxpayers, split between the state and local governments.
"I don't anticipate that we'll ever exclusively use conventions," Cuccinelli said. "But the convention is in danger of simply not being an option. ... The State Central Committee is not going to vote for a convention if they expect to end up in a financial hole afterward."
Filing fees for primary elections are set by the state board of elections and set at two percent of the salary of the office sought. Daxe Rexrode, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, said the party plan previously called for gubernatorial candidates to pay $25,000 at conventions. But in March 2008, the party lowered filing fees to match those charged for primary candidates.
That means, McDonnell paid just $3,500 to run unopposed at during the state GOP convention, or 2 percent of the governor's $175,000 salary. (Cuccinelli paid $3,000 in his three-way race while Bolling paid $762 to run against Patrick Muldoon).
In November 2009, after McDonnell, Bolling and Cuccinelli were elected, the amount was raised to 4 percent of the office's salary after some local parties complained that they had trouble paying for their meetings and conventions, Rexrode said.
But even with that hike, Cuccinelli said he fears that nominating conventions will become a thing of the past if the party can't find a better way to pay for them.
He said conventions help build party enthusiasm and help candidates connect with grassroots activists most likely to become campaign volunteers. He said they also they keep the public from having to pay for the party's nominating process and prevent Democratic crossover voters from affecting electing outcomes.
But the move has some activists concerned the high fees could keep some candidates out of the nominating process.
Cuccinelli countered that he and the two other candidates competing for the nomination for attorney general spent about $1 million in total competing for the convention nod in 2009. Four years earlier, McDonnell and attorney Steve Baril spent about $5 million while competing in the Republican primary election for the attorney general nomination.
"It may seem counterintuitive but charging significant filing fees makes conventions more affordable and therefore more likely and therefore makes lower dollar candidates more viable," Cuccinelli said.
And he said the goal isn't to "put conventions in a dominant position" or aide his own prospects but to help the party.
Rexrode said State Central Committee may vote on whether to raise the fees at its meeting at the GOP Advance in December, but no schedule is yet set.
Rosalind S. Helderman and Anita Kumar
| September 22, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Anita Kumar, Ken Cuccinelli, Rosalind Helderman
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