The 5th District Republican Committee has denied an appeal from U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman to change the upcoming convention’s venue after he protested a vote based on an allegation that three voting members of the committee are involved with his opponent’s campaign.
Riggleman had earlier sought to convince the committee to switch the nomination method from a convention to a primary election, in part citing safety concerns rising from the coronavirus pandemic.
Bob Good, Riggleman’s challenger and a former Liberty University athletics director, has long supported the convention method and previously claimed that more than 60% of the delegates had registered to support his candidacy.
During a May 11 meeting of the 5th District Republican Committee, members voted 18-17, with one recusal, to hold a single-location modified, unassembled “drive-thru” convention at Tree of Life Ministries in Campbell County on June 13.
However, soon after that vote, counsel for Riggleman filed an appeal, claiming three of the voting members are involved with Good’s campaign, two as paid consultants and one as a custodian of records.
“A campaign staffer that has a vote on the committee that is setting the nomination method and the arrangements for a nomination process is more than a possible conflict, it is an actual conflict,” the appeal reads. “Once the actual conflict was revealed, the District Chairman and/or the District Committee had a duty to remove said officers from voting in all matters pertaining to the set up or running of the Convention.”
During Tuesday’s virtual committee meeting, Christopher Woodfin, Riggleman’s counsel, presented an argument to the same effect, claiming that controlling authority — the Republican Party of Virginia and Robert’s Rules of Order — does not explicitly state that members need to recuse themselves but does indicate members should behave ethically.
“There is nothing wrong with members of the committee being staff members for a candidate, that is correct,” Woodfin said. “That has happened for a long time, but there is something wrong when they cast that vote.”
The issue is compounded by how close the vote was, he said, with three members making a significant difference in the 18-17 decision on May 11.
“If this committee chooses to deny the appeal and uphold what is basically pay-to-play politics, all I ask is that you give me a number so the next time I’m doing a race in the [5th District] I know what to put in the budget,” Woodfin said. “Because that is what you’re saying here. If this is okay then you’re saying that I need to budget this in a campaign for the 5th District. Just give me a number.”
Melvin Adams, chairman of the 5th District Republican Committee, said that after the appeal was filed he appointed an appeals committee of four to examine the rules. Committee member Will Kirk presented the report, which he said he and the other members spent around 70 hours preparing.
The reports argues in part that, per the RPV party plans, no rules were violated.
Kirk said that the first vote for Tree of Life as the venue occurred in February and was 36-1 in favor. Furthermore, the difference in travel distance for all delegates between Tree of Life and another proposed venue — Nelson County High School — was around four miles, he said.
“So, we’re not looking at this in terms of favoring one candidate over another,” Kirk said. “We obviously need to have this convention in our zone and there are not many acceptable venues.”
In terms of the three committee members working with Good, Kirk said that they disclosed their involvement to the committee in January and were determined by the appeals committee to not be in violation of the RPV plan.
“We found that if you need to challenge the state party plan, this is not the venue to do so,” Kirk said. “We believe that the committee members who have in fact offered their point of conflict, which you perceive as a conflict, they offered their names as having a working relationship with a campaign.”
During a discussion that followed both arguments, various committee members expressed their opinions on the situation. Some members took issue with the three voting members failing to recuse themselves but acknowledged that, per the party plan, the votes were not violations.
A motion requesting the three members be recused failed by a 22-12 vote.
Later, after spending roughly an hour and a half debating various aspects of the Tree of Life venue and Riggleman’s appeal, the committee voted 24-10 to deny the appeal.
At around 11 p.m. Tuesday, the decision was made to postpone discussion about rules and logistics of the convention until later in the week. The convention, which is now slated for June 13, has been logistically complicated since Gov. Ralph Northam’s order banning gatherings of more than 10 people pushed its original April 25 date back until after the order expires on June 10.
In April, a Richmond City Circuit Court judge granted the request for a temporary injunction, giving the 7th District Republican Committee until July 28 to select its nominee via convention. The ruling was later applied to the rest of the state.
While the details of the 5th District Republican Convention have not been finalized, discussion within the committee indicated that various precautions are being implemented, including purchasing individual pens for every delegate. More than 1,000 delegates are expected to participate.
Good said on Tuesday that he supports the committee’s vote to deny the appeal, which he said is consistent with earlier votes to hold at convention.
“It’s been clear from the start that the 5th District Republican Committee supports this nomination method and venue,” Good said. “It’s silly for Riggleman to be focusing on this issue when he should be trying to persuade delegates.”
Good also said that only two of the voting committee members are on his payroll and it is common for committee members to work with campaigns they support, including a voting member who earlier worked for Riggleman.
The Riggleman campaign did not respond to requests for comment about the committee’s decision.