State: Group behind controversial Virginia Beach election signs broke the law

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia Department of Elections has fined the newly created Virginia Beach Teachers Association for violating election law.

On Wednesday, Chris Piper, the commissioner for the department, sent Virginia Beach Commonwealths’ Attorney Colin Stolle a letter detailing that because the VBTA did not file a Statement of Organization within the proper time limit, they will have to pay $500 to the state by the end of March.

This is the same association that caused quite the controversy during the general election in November 2019 when their campaign materials were found outside city polling locations.

A total of 14 candidates were named as the “wise choice” with the Teachers Association, but other education advocates said they had never heard of the VBTA before.

Stolle had written to Piper back in January with concerns that the VBTA may have violated the law by not alerting the state of its intent to become a Political Action Committee. Doing so requires financial disclosures so voters can know who is paying for ads.

On election day, a Virginia State Corporation Commission filing was the only trace of the VBTA that 10 On Your Side could find online. It stated that the association was established in August 2019 by Virginia Beach School Board member Laura Hughes.

At the time school board candidate Robert Dean stated Hughes founded VBTA as a “lobbying group … established to represent teachers.”

However, the statement of organization wasn’t filed with the state until January 12, more than two months after the election.

In campaign finance reports, no “teachers” were listed as donors to produce the more than $3,000 spent by the political action committee.

Rather, donors consisted of conservative-leaning politicians Senator Bill DeSteph, Virginia Beach Councilman John Moss, Hughes, Dean, and other activists. In total, $3,360 was raised in the second half of last year.

“It just confirms the fact that we knew that teachers were not involved,” said Kelly Walker, President of Virginia Beach Education Association.

Walker said she believes that Hughes founded the VBTA to “discredit” the Virginia Beach Education Association (VBEA), which was established more than 60 years ago. Members of the VBEA must be Virginia Beach City Public Schools employees, and the association includes teachers, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

However, Elaine Fekete, who donated $140 to VBTA, per records, says that is just not so.

“A large number of teachers wanted to donate, but are quite frankly afraid of the retaliation from the VBEA and School administration,” Fekete said. “The organization is for all school employees, parents, students and concerned citizens.”

She also correctly pointed out that membership dues do not have to be reported, so it is unknown if teachers are members or not. A look at the VBEA’s political disclosures shows for the same time period, all donations came in from either politicians or those connected to them.

Unlike the VBEA, state records do not show any website for VBTA.

“I donated and I’d do it again,” Councilman Moss said by phone Thursday. “As far as the late filing I have to defer to the leaders of the association, but I will tell you, this is not the first time someone has filed late.”

Hughes has not responded to multiple requests for comment on how the delay and reporting occurred.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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