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Harrison: Did Unfolding Sixth District Listgate Scandal Break RPV Party Rules?

By James Harrison

The Listgate scandal connected with the Sixth District Republican Convention on May 19th has stoked controversy within the party, as multiple campaigns and party leaders have made accusations of bias, favoritism, and violations of party rules against Sixth District Chairman Scott Sayre and the U.S. House campaign of RNC National Committeewoman Cynthia Dunbar.

Back in January, Sayre was accused of rigging the convention’s rules in Dunbar’s favor [1]. After delegate filing deadlines closed, Sayre announced that he would not be releasing to competing campaigns the official lists of certified convention delegates.

Shortly thereafter, reports surfaced that Dunbar volunteers had been given the lists to begin contacting the delegates.

Competing Congressional campaigns put out strong joint statements [2]. Sayre’s challenger took to the radio [3] with accusations of bias and unethical conduct.

Did Chairman Sayre Violate the State Party Plan?

Scott Sayre’s actions as Chairman have raised eyebrows in his own reelection campaign against one challenger, Jennifer Brown.

While the State Party Plan [4] does not specify hard deadlines for the release of delegate lists, it does contain a requirement that leaders conduct themselves in good faith and refrain from unethical conduct, including in cases where their position gives them access to confidential party data, such as delegate lists.

According to Article VII, Section J(1), entitled “Ethical Conduct”:

“Voting members of official committees shall exercise their best efforts to conduct the business of the Party in good faith, with reasonable care, skill, and diligence. They shall hold as confidential all party information, documents, and communications clearly designated as confidential of for limited dissemination or use by adopted policy of the committee. They shall refrain from participating in unethical activity, diminishing the dignity and credibility of the the [sic] Party.”

In his position as chairman, Sayre had access to delegate lists shortly after county GOP filing deadlines closed in early March, when local chairmen prepared and sent the lists to Sayre in his capacity as Sixth District Chairman.

Sayre announced he would not even consider the release of those delegate lists until mid to late April, granting his reelection campaign a one month head start to make its pitch to delegates.

As chairman, he has an inherent conflict of interest in failing to release these lists shortly after their receipt. If he were acting in good faith and refraining from unethical conduct, as required by the Party Plan, he would have anticipated this conflict and dissociated himself from any unfair advantage by arranging for lists to be promptly released to all candidates.

Of course, any advance transfer of delegate lists to Dunbar’s campaign would also raise serious concerns about whether officials failed to act with the impartiality required under Section J(1).

A district chairman could face removal for such conduct.

District chairmen are required to hold district conventions [PP Art. IV, Sec. D(2)] in good faith and without unethical activity [PP Art. VII, Sec. J(1)]. If a district chairman should fail to function and fulfill the position’s duties, he or she can be removed and replaced by a majority vote of the State Central Committee [PP Art. III, Sec. D(1)(f)] as follows:

“Whenever the State Central Committee shall determine that a District or a Legislative District Chairman has failed to function as such, then the State Chairman shall appoint a new Chairman to perform the duties provided in the State Party Plan until a successor is duly elected by the applicable Committee.”

Dunbar is also prohibited from using her position to use confidential party data not available to her opponents. As national committeewoman resident in district, Dunbar is herself a member of the Sixth District GOP, under the committee’s bylaws [5] [Art. III, Sec. (A)(1)(e)(iv)].

Potential Federal Campaign Compliance Issues

The question of when Dunbar’s campaign received advance delegate lists may be answered in her next quarterly campaign finance filing.

Under federal law, mailing lists and data are considered things of value whose receipt must be publicly disclosed under certain conditions as an in-kind (non-cash) campaign contribution.

Gaining advance access to a delegate list from the Sixth District GOP would require Dunbar report its receipt, the source, and the date on which it was received, with two exceptions.

The first exception would apply if it was given simultaneously to all campaigns as part of the process and covered by their filing fee. This would not be a contribution, because each campaign would have paid for and received it on an equal basis, similarly to ad space in a convention program or tables and signs at the venue.

The second applies to volunteer activity by individuals. Under FEC rules, their time and incidental expenses are not reportable, and neither are gifts of personal data as part of volunteer activity.

Under federal election law, individuals are natural persons, not legal entities, organizations, or registered political committees. Any in-kind contribution from any non-individual must be reported.

If Dunbar preferentially received delegate lists from the Sixth District GOP, then she will have to disclose the date of receipt by the April 15th deadline, clearly confirming for exactly how long her campaign may have had an unfair advantage.

However, if Dunbar received the lists from a member of the Sixth District GOP acting in their individual capacity, then Dunbar would not have to report when she received those lists.

But in the event the lists were given by an individual acting as a volunteer, that committee member would open themselves up to disciplinary action under the Party Plan for failing to maintain the confidentiality of party data, as well as breaching the requirement for good faith and ethical conduct.

Does Dunbar’s Campaign Have the Lists?

Rumors have circulated that Dunbar’s campaign received the lists shortly after the closing of unit committee filing deadlines and was actively using them to campaign. That controversy culminated in a nearly-unprecedented joint statement by her challengers [2], as reported by WHSV out of Harrisonburg.

“After the Sixth District Committee and Chairman Scott Sayre attempted to rig the process back in January to benefit one candidate at the May 19th Convention with a single-ballot plurality vote, Chairman Sayre and the Committee are again attempting to rig the process to benefit that same candidate by delaying the release of delegate names to the other campaigns, including his own opponent for chairman.” […]

“Republicans in the Sixth District have reason to be greatly concerned if the Sixth District Committee continues to show this flagrant bias and fails to allow for an open and transparent process. Continued efforts to trample the rights of voters in the Sixth District shows an unethical abuse of power in favor of one candidate.”

In response, Matt Tedrick, the political director for Dunbar’s campaign, denied the allegations. Tedrick also serves as Vice Chairman of the Sixth District GOP, the committee’s second highest-ranking position and may have access to the lists in his official capacity.

At that time, Chairman Sayre also denied transferring lists to Dunbar’s campaign.

However, on the same day as WHSV’s story, radio host John Fredericks reported a Monday night conversation with Sayre [3] in which he didn’t deny giving the lists to Dunbar on an advance basis – five separate times.

Instead, Sayre called for an “investigation,” which led Fredericks to remark:

“I asked Scott Sayre this question five times. He could not answer it five times. Instead here’s what he said to me, and I quote, ‘I’m going to do an investigation on the accusations and report back the facts the week of March 26th.’ And I’m like, what are you going to do, investigate yourself? You have the names. Are you giving them to the Dunbar campaign or not? Obviously, your opponent, Jennifer Brown, is at a disadvantage because you have the names of the delegates and she does not.”

Sayre pledged to report on the “investigation” of himself on the week of March 26th, which falls immediately after the next quarterly meeting of RPV’s State Central Committee, potentially shielding those involved from timely accountability if lists were improperly transferred.

In another Fredericks segment broadcast the next day, House candidate Chaz Haywood echoed similar concerns of bias, calling the actions of Sayre [6] “absolutely unethical.”

Does Dunbar’s campaign have the lists? Some signs suggest it does – from her campaign’s chairman being the only one with access, to manipulated deadlines, to ethical entanglements, to evasive and changing statements to the media, to allegations that Dunbar volunteers were campaigning with the lists. Bad faith was introduced to this cycle when Dunbar attempted to rig convention rules in her favor.

For the record, though, Dunbar, Sayre, and Tedrick are all denying it – even though that story seems to be shifting.