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With Deadlines Approaching, Campaigns Use Tricks to Influence Finance Disclosures

Candidates for the General Assembly are facing a key deadline this week for campaign finance.

Nothing inspires quick action and creative thinking quite like a deadline. Just ask candidates running for the 140 seats of the Virginia General Assembly this year.

Credit Virginia Public Access Project

Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington says candidates have all kinds of tricks to make sure their latest campaign finance disclosures makes them seem as flush as possible. 

“You can delay paying bills until after the quarterly reports are filed," Farnsworth says. "You can beg donors to give you money before the deadline rather than after to make your campaign look better.”

Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says sometimes candidates use their own money as part of a shell game. 

“Candidates might even loan their campaigns money on a short-term basis just to have a big balance in their account, and then as soon as the deadline passes, they take that money back," he explains. "And so there are all kinds of games that get played.”

Numbers posted to the Virginia Public Access Project show how the days leading up to a deadline four years ago prompted last-minute donations, and the days after a deadline were a time when a lot of bills got paid — two of the most basic ways campaigns use to look as robust as possible on campaign finance disclosure documents.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.