Complaints against Johnson campaign dismissed

Published 7:38 am Friday, May 25, 2012

RICHMOND – The State Board of Elections Thursday dismissed two complaints against Mayor-Elect Raystine Johnson and her campaign committee stemming from campaign advertisements.

The board concluded that an ad that ran in The Tidewater News last month and a flyer promoting a campaign fundraiser weren’t in violation of election law.

Complaints filed last month by Mayor Jim Councill and Councilman Greg McLemore, who were both defeated by Johnson in the May 1 election; as well as Councilman Don Blythe and defeated Ward 1 candidate Earl Blythe claiming the advertisement was in violation of the law because it used their photographs but failed to mention they didn’t endorse it.

The board could’ve fined Johnson’s campaign up to $500 if it had found a violation.

The advertisement inferred that Councill, McLemore, Don Blythe and Earl Blythe are members of a “coalition.” The advertisement also grouped Johnson, Ward 2 Councilman Benny Burgess, Earl Blythe’s Ward 1 opponent and incumbent Councilman Barry Cheatham and Ward 5 Councilwoman Mary Hilliard in a different coalition. The text under the photographs said “a uniter, not a divider” and listed the address of Johnson’s campaign website.

The board found the ad was legal because it stated it was paid for by Johnson’s campaign committee, said David Blackwood, a policy analyst with the board of elections.

“We don’t look at the content of an ad,” Blackwood said. “We look for the disclosure statement.”

The board dropped another complaint that alleged a flier for a fish fry hosted by the Johnson campaign didn’t disclosed who paid for it. In two separate affidavits, Johnson said she knew nothing of the flier and that a friend created it, Blackwood said.

He said with that evidence they concluded that it wasn’t a Johnson ad and therefore was exempt.

“I’m pleased for her that she can began her role as mayor without this hanging over her head,” said Jim Rainey, an attorney representing Johnson for the hearing. “I think she would be relieved the state found in her favor.”

Don Blythe said he accepts the decision and will continue to move forward for the better of the city.

“I think we need to unite as a council,” he said. “You have to work together to get things done.”

McLemore said it was a fair decision.

“I think it was a fair and reasonable finding by the electoral board,” he said.

Johnson takes over as mayor on July 1.