Swallow the Money, Part 2 of 3

by Joe Fitzgerald

There’s a donor in CFReports named “no name.” He, she, or it is listed on the report as “Name, No.” This same donor is called “Unknown Entity” in VPAP. Or perhaps “Entity, Unknown.” (VPAP and CFReports are described in Part 1.)

This donor’s address shows up as Matt Cross’s house on his campaign reports. (The address is public record, but it feels like doxing to use it here.) “No Name” gave Cross $170 for his 2021 campaign for the Rockingham County School Board, which he now chairs.

Cross’s reports demonstrate two things about Virginia’s system for campaign finance reporting. One is that it’s as easy to make at least a dozen mistakes as it is to make one. The other is that if a report is riddled with errors, it’s not clear what’s to be done about it.

Cross’s finance reports are good examples of the idea that the kind of campaign a politician runs can show us what kind of public official they will be. Cross’s reports show a candidate who appears to either not know how to fill out the reports or perhaps thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Maybe that’s what we should expect of a candidate who, upon taking leadership of a like-minded board, began banning books without regard for how they were chosen or what the process is for challenging a book. Instead they are banning books regardless of whether they’re in county schools, based not on any identifiable process but on vague parental complaints they have yet to produce.

The law on “No Name” at Cross’s house is that any campaign donor must be identified by name, address, and occupation. If that information is not available, the money is not supposed to be used for campaign purposes, but should be donated to charity. In the past, local candidates have given unidentified money as well as unspent funds to churches or non-profits. (Where the money goes is not regulated. One Harrisonburg City Council candidate, unopposed for re-election, gave $460 to his son for “campaigning.”) There is no report on VPAP of Cross donating any campaign money to charity, so it’s hard to say what he did with No Name’s $170.

As noted above, the donor’s occupation is supposed to be listed on CFReports. But that information does not appear on any of the donors in a particular group of campaign reports, defined further down.

The omission of occupation information could be an oversight on Cross’s part. That’s why candidates are allowed to file amended reports. Some file more than others. The particular group of reports mentioned previously, the ones without the occupation info, are the two reports where Cross’s campaign filed the original and six amendments. If leaving off that information was an innocent mistake, it’s one his campaign made seven times. On each report. That’s a lot of tries at getting it right. It’s worth noting that I didn’t check the three reports he had to amend five times, or the one he had to amend four times. Maybe he had the required occupation information on those four reports and 19 corrections.

Cross’s information on his legally required campaign finance reports is missing some information, and the reports had to be corrected multiple times. That’s not to suggest anything illegal, and especially not anything intentionally misleading. The direction of the county school board shows a group taking a different tack. They do not intentionally lie or mislead. They simply say what they want to be true. That’s allowed for an elected official in Virginia, just as the state allows a lot of leeway in campaign finance reporting. Is it Matt Cross’s fault that he can say whatever he wants about banned books while calling the city schools a dumpster fire? Is it Sara Horst’s fault that she complains about a “manufactured crisis” that she helped manufacture?

Of course it’s not their fault. Blame it on “No Name.” Or maybe on “Unknown Entity.”

Joe Fitzgerald is a former mayor of Harrisonburg. Republished with permission from Still Not Sleeping.