Dems try to hang 'Enron Ed' tag on Gillespie

An investment banker named in an SEC complaint during the fallout of the Enron accounting scandal gave $5,000 to GOP gubernatorial hopeful Ed Gillespie's campaign last month, one of a few connections Gillespie's opponents may point to in an effort to stick him with the nickname "Enron Ed."

Gillespie, of course, once lobbied for Enron, cutting ties after one of the largest corporate frauds in U.S. history unravelled. The connection came up during his 2014 U.S. Senate race, and Gillespie has said before that he knew nothing of the company's accounting fraud. His campaign calls attacks along this line "a weak attempt at guilt by association."

Schuyler (pronounced sky-ler) M. Tilney donated to the campaign on March 31. He was named in a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint in 2003 as one of several people accused of helping Enron inflate its annual profits. Tilney refused to testify and was dismissed by Merrill Lynch, where he had been head of the investment banking energy division in Houston, The New York Times reported at the time.

Merrill Lynch paid $80 million to settle with the SEC, but a civil suit brought by the commission against Tilney and others remained. Tilney fought the charges, and in 2012 the suit against him was voluntarily dismissed after Enron officials also accused in the scandal agreed to settle.

A Daily Press attempt to reach Tilney, who lives in Houston, was not successful. Gillespie spokeswoman Abbi Sigler said, "Mr. Tinley is a U.Va. alumnus who appears to still care about Virginia and has given to many Republican candidates, including in several statewide Virginia campaigns."

Indee,d he is a University of Virginia alum and a member of the university's alumni advisory board. The Virginia Public Access Project indicates he's given $9,500 to Virginia candidates over the years, not including the latest donation to Gillespie. Most of the money went to state Sen. Bryce Reeves, who's now running for lieutenant governor.

Also on Gillespie's list of recent donors: Mark Palmer ($5,000), Enron's spokesman as bankruptcy closed in, and Andrew Lundquist ($7,500), head of a White House energy council Gillespie once lobbied on Enron's behalf.

A Democratic operative, who did not wish to be named, pointed the Daily Press toward each of these names Tuesday, one day after the first campaign finance reports of the 2017 campaign season were due. Altogether Gillespie's campaign raised about $1.9 million over the last three months.

Northam, Perriello and dark money

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam called for new disclosure requirements Wednesday on so-called dark money groups that spend on Virginia elections.

Is this really the low hanging fruit of campaign finance reform in a state that allows unlimited corporate donations direct to politicians? Well ...

"It's obviously hard to say how much dark money is out there, but my guess is that it's low," Quentin Kidd, head of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University said in an email. "I'm not sure this is really about dark money."

It may be more about shifting a narrative in the governor's race: away from Northam and the rest of the Virginia political establishment's acceptance of large donations from state-regulated Dominion Energy, which primary challenger Tom Perriello has decried, and toward Perriello's acceptance of six-figure checks from out-of-state donors.

Those donors include an organization called Avaaz, an advocacy group Perriello helped found and which, as a 501c4, does not have to disclose its donors.

Northam's proposal would mirror Montana's Disclose Act, passed in 2015. The law quickly spurred a lawsuit, but was upheld by a local district court. The case was appealed in late November to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

So it remains to be seen whether states can forbid anonymous donations as Northam proposes, given federal law and what the courts have held in the landmark Citizens United case and other decisions. Jason Torchinsky, an attorney who specializes in campaign and election issues, and who's also one of state Sen. Jill Vogel's law partners, pointed toward this language from the D.C. Circuit, which borrows from Martin Luther King Jr.:

"The arc of campaign finance law has been ambivalent, bending toward speech and disclosure, Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote for the court. 'Indeed what has made this area of election law so challenging is that these two values exist in unmistakable tension. Disclosure chills speech. Speech without disclosure risks corruption. And the Supreme Court's track record of expanding who may speak while simultaneously blessing robust disclosure rules has set these two values on an ineluctable collision course.'"

"Ineluctable" here meaning unavoidable, but still in the future.

As for Avaaz, the group has said in the past it's funded by thousands of small donors, though larger foundation donors provided start-up costs prior to 2009. It's a left-leaning international grant-making organization and an online grassroots organizer. It's 2015 tax forms are online and show some $23 million in annual revenue.

Listed donors seem to have been redacted from the public version of the filing, as allowed by law. The group put $230,000 cash into Perriello's gubernatorial campaign earlier this year, plus another $12,600 in in-kind donations to cover travel and staffing costs.

Fain can be reached at 757-525-1759 or tfain@dailypress.com. Ress can be reached at 757-247-4535 or dress@dailypress.com. Read The Shad Plank blog at www.shadplank.com.

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