Possible Conflicts of Interest Regarding Virginia's Gubernatorial Election

Aug 14, 2013

The Vice Chair of the State Board of Elections is asking whether a new state law expanding the Attorney General’s power to investigate election irregularities will create a conflict of interest this fall.  Kimberly Bowers, who is the Democratic appointee to the Board, raised the issue as the members held a meeting in Richmond.  This year’s campaign season will be the first test of the new law.

Commonwealth’s attorneys already can probe election violations. And under previous law, so could Attorneys General upon the Board’s unanimous vote.  As of July 1st, they can proceed independently—as WELL as investigate at the Board’s request.  But Bowers questioned whether Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli can be impartial about his campaign.

“My question, I feel like, pertains to what we’re about to go through in the November elections given the fact that there is a sitting member in the Attorney General’s office who is running as a gubernatorial candidate.”

The Board’s legal counsel, Senior Assistant Attorney General Joshua Lief, drew a parallel with elected commonwealth’s attorneys and said they have the SAME authority.

“So they can call an investigation regarding the governor’s race, any race in their jurisdiction, yet they run for re-election. And when there have been allegations in the past of impropriety involving elections for commonwealth’s attorney, they have said, ‘I’m not going to investigate my own campaign, fellow commonwealth’s attorney in an adjoining jurisdiction or outside counsel, please do this work.’  That’s exactly what the mechanism would be now.”

Lief added that ALL of the attorneys involved are sworn to uphold the law.