Following the Funds: Norfolk council candidates call for stronger campaign finance reporting enforcement

10 On Your Side

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — While it’s the heavily funded, tightening race for governor that is stealing headlines in Virginia less than a week until Election Day, a City Council race in Norfolk is also making history.

For the first time, voters in part of the city will be electing a council member in November instead of in May. As expected by some of those pushing for the change, it’s led to more people getting involved in the election process.

Six candidates are running to fulfill the term former Superward 7 council member Angelia Williams Graves won with no opponent just more than a year ago.

The candidates include: local wealth consultant Danica Royster, who was appointed earlier this year to temporally fill Graves’ seat when Graves won a special election for the House of Delegates; Jason Inge, a regional transportation mobility manager at Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia; Frederick McRae, who owns Mac Kutz Unisex Salon in Berkley; Jackie Glass, a U.S. Navy veteran and community activist who became a leading voice against the plans for Norfolk’s casino; Phillip Hawkins Jr., a Norfolk Public Schools teacher; and Michael Muhammad, a political consultant and civil activist.

Muhammad, Glass and Hawkins have all run unsuccessfully for a seat on City Council before. Royster, Inge and McRae have never run for office before.

Royster is the top fundraiser by far. Her campaign’s most recent financial filing reports nearly $100,000 raised since she announced her candidacy. Her top donors include Mayor Kenny Alexander, Graves and several prominent area developers, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

Glass, Inge and Hawkins have all raised between $10,000 and $25,000 for their campaigns, mostly from private small donors.

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The exact status of McRae and Muhammad’s campaigns aren’t necessarily known, as campaign finance reports haven’t either been filed or complete. It’s an issue that has made its way onto the campaign stage.

“In this race, we have seen candidates raise close to $100,000 for a City Council seat that only pays close to $25,000 a year and other candidates who believe they can disregard campaigns finance reporting laws,” Inge said Wednesday. “We all have to be held to a higher standard when seeking public office. There are candidates in this race who believe they are above the laws and rules of our state. I don’t understand how they have been allowed to circumvent the rules and even still be allowed on the ballot.”

Muhammad, who is known for his anti-establishment stances, has filed two campaign finance reports in the amount of time he should have filed four. The reports also don’t indicate if he has raised or spent any money, even though his campaign signs are displayed around the city.

The only piece of information one can garner is that Muhammad loaned himself $40,000 for his campaign back on May 15.

In the case of McRae, his campaign hasn’t filed a report since July.

The Virginia Department of Elections will fine campaigns that don’t submit reports, submit them late and submit them incomplete. The civil penalties can range from $100 to $1,000 for each additional occurrence.

A spokesperson for VDOE did not comment on Muhammad’s or McRae’s specific cases.

McRae told 10 On Your Side that he has filed his reports with the state, but because of mistakes, they have not yet been posted.

Muhammad said the issue of campaign finance is distracting from the real issues of the campaign.

“With the attorneys for and advertisers of WAVY-TV 10 giving money to the non-democratically appointed Danica Royster, none should be shocked,” Muhammad said in a statement.

Muhammad claimed his campaign was “erroneously locked out” of being able to file.

“We are playing catch up with finance reports and will pay all assessed fines and penalties for late reporting. We have also kept records of our battles with both local and state election and finance offices to show the interruption and irregularities. As the only candidate to have financed the majority of my campaign myself, I have in fact notated my loans and we will amend all reports to reflect expenditures and contributions in the days to come as allowed by campaign finance law,” Muhammad said.

Royster, who has been politically attacked by Muhammad previously, wishes the issue was better enforced.

“I think that is something that should trickle down to the local level as it relates to being held accountable for your campaign donations, as well as expenses,” Royster said.

When asked about her success in fundraising, she attributed it to strong messaging.

“People invest in you because they believe in you. And if you are not able to translate what you will do and how you want to do it, you are not going to make a compelling argument for anyone to give you anything,” Royster said.

Glass argues that money should also be returned to the community.

“It has been difficult to ask for money from working folks during COVID. We have ensured that the vast majority of funds we spend go to SWaM and veteran-owned businesses in Superward 7,” Glass said, referring to Small, Women-owned, and Minority-owned businesses.

For Hawkins’ part, he just wants people to be transparent.

“All candidates must be open, transparent, accountable and honest to serve the citizens to ensure that special interests don’t influence the outcomes of voting in elections with conflicts interests in decision making of the Council,” Hawkins said.

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