Isle of Wight takes Vines to court over campaign finance fines

Published 7:02 pm Tuesday, August 15, 2023

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Isle of Wight County is taking former School Board member Michael Vines to court over unpaid fines related to his unsuccessful election campaign last year.

The county’s Voter Registrar’s Office had fined Vines $2,100 ahead of the Nov. 8, 2022, elections for missing multiple deadlines to report his campaign finances to the Virginia Department of Elections.

Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips signed two civil claims for money, known as “warrants in debt,” against Vines in March – one for the still unpaid $2,100 and another fining him an additional $1,000.

Vines is scheduled to appear in Isle of Wight County General District Court on Sept. 15.

The $2,100 warrant references penalties for, in 2022, missing the June 13, July 15 and Oct. 17 campaign finance reporting deadlines. The $1,000 warrant also references penalties for late filing of campaign finance reports, but it does not list a specific missed deadline.

According to reports on file with the Virginia Department of Elections, Vines filed three reports on Sept. 7 last year, one for June 6-9, one for June 10-30 and one for July 1 through Aug. 31. The June 6-9 report was due June 13, 2022, and the June 10-30 one, by July 15 last year.

On Nov. 7, Vines filed reports for Sept. 1-30 and Oct. 1-27, though the September report was due Oct. 17 and the October report was due Oct. 31. Vines then waited until Jan. 13 of this year to file his report for Oct. 28 through Dec. 1, though the report was due Dec. 8.

According to Vines’ attorney, Steven Oser, Vines opened a checking account with $100 at the start of his campaign. Each of Vines’ reports show no additional campaign contributions and no expenses.

Vines, who received just under 30% of the vote to challenger Jason Maresh’s 68.5%, told The Tidewater News the day after the election that he’d “decided not to actively run” for the position by making campaign signs or any other solicitation of votes.

A 2020 Virginia Department of Elections document titled “Summary of Laws and Policies – Candidate Campaign Committees” specifies a fine of $100 for one to 15 days delinquency, $200 for 16-30 days, $300 for 31-45 days, $400 for 46-60 days and $500 for 61 or more days.

Oser said he’s considering looking into whether the county’s enforcement of campaign finance report deadlines has been “arbitrary.”

Renee Dial, who, like Vines, was appointed by the board in 2021 to fill a vacancy and was running for her first election to fill the remainder of a former member’s term, was fined $100 by the State Board of Elections in January for missing the “paid for by” disclaimer on some of her campaign signs. The matter had come to the state board’s attention after a woman who’d helped Dial’s opponent, Mark Wooster, circulate his petition to get on the ballot filed a “stand by your ad” complaint against Dial. Wooster defeated Dial on Nov. 8 with roughly 57% of the vote to Dial’s 42%.

According to his submitted campaign finance reports, Maresh, who’s running for reelection this year for what would be a full four-year term, met each campaign finance reporting deadline from the start of his bid for office in February 2022 to Dec. 31 of that year, and has continued to meet the listed deadlines for the 2023 election cycle. Wooster also met every deadline in 2022 and 2023 except for his June 9-30, 2023, report, which was due July 17 but filed July 18. Denise Tynes, who’s running for reelection to the School Board’s District 1 seat this year, was also one day late in filing her June 9-30 report.