Virginia Public Access Project brings transparency to Chesterfield elections

When it comes to local elections, the sun is about to shine more brightly in Chesterfield.

Beginning March 16, Chesterfield County residents can go online at VPAP.org to “follow the money” in elections for Board of Supervisors. Village News reported on this development in its Feb. 23 issue but details have immerged.

This new transparency is made possible by the Virginia Public Access Project, a Richmond-based nonprofit that empowers voters to see for themselves who’s financing campaigns.

“Transparency of money in politics is a unique way for voters to get to know the candidates and to discover what interests are funding the campaigns,” said David Poole, VPAP’s executive director.

VPAP.org adheres to a nonpartisan, “just the facts” approach that allows voters to make their own judgments. VPAP’s singular mission is to make elections as transparent as possible. One newspaper calls VPAP.org a “remarkable cyberplace” where citizens can “learn a lot more about the candidates by tracking their money than by listening to their stump speeches.”

The Chesterfield County campaign finance initiative is sponsored in part by Bon Secours, Columbia Gas, and the Richmond-Times Dispatch.

At VPAP.org, Chesterfield residents will find a complete list of candidates who are running for the Board of Supervisors this fall. Click on any candidate and get a donor list, which can be sorted by amount, name, occupation and ZIP code. You can even plot donations on a map at www.vpap.org/elections/locality/51041.

With elections just months away, VPAP has also added resources to guide residents through the county’s redistricting process.

Chesterfield must redraw district boundaries to account for population changes reflected in the 2010 Census. VPAP.org has interactive tools to help residents visualize demographic changes. Citizens can create interactive maps that illuminate population and ethnic characteristics of each precinct. Visit www.vpap.org/elections/locality_demographics/51041 to tract redistricting.

For decades, candidates running for local office in Chesterfield County have been filing periodic reports that disclose the name of any donor who gives more than $100. But citizens had no practical way to access the information.

“It’s was too much to expect for people – even the most dedicated activist – to drive to the Registrar’s Office on Lori Road several times a year sift through piles of paper,” explained Rob Forrest, VPAP’s local elections coordinator. “Now any Chesterfield resident can go online and see for themselves.”

VPAP has a 14-year track record of providing accurate, nonpartisan information about money in politics. The group’s mission is to make the state’s disclosure laws meaningful and to promote civic engagement

Virginia is one of a handful of states that place no limits on campaign contributions. Instead, Virginia relies on disclosure. VPAP.org makes it easy for citizens to view and analyze the information.

VPAP covers all General Assembly and statewide elections. On the local level, tracks campaign cash in 32 cities and counties. Chesterfield is the latest addition. For election information, visit www.vpap.org/elections/locality/51041.

Comments

Virginia Public Access Project

Fascinating. Great job providing the details; you completely scooped Chesterfield Observer, where this topic has never been mentioned.

In poking around the VPAP web site, I was at first chagrined to see that Dan Gecker - whom I greatly admire even though I do not live in his district - has raised four times as much money as any other candidate: $40,400. However, when I drilled down further, I found that $40,000 of that is a loan from one person: Dan Gecker himself.

On the other hand, I found it mildly disturbing that the second largest cash contributor to Marleen Durfee is none other than F. Wayne Bass of the Planning Commission. I had not thought much about it before, but my instincts tell me that the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commissioners should hold themselves at arms length from each other, at least financially.

I have the perhaps naive expectation that Board and Commission members would strive to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. It strikes me as mildly unsavory that a Board member might be perceived as being in the hip pocket of another Board or Commission member because he or she is in any way financially beholden to another. I wonder if there are any rules or regulations governing this issue...

Either way, the site is thought-provoking, and CVN has done the community a great service by bringing it to our attention. Many thanks.

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