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'That's a campaign event': Norris-organized concert raises eyebrows

Dave Norris wants you to know that the free concert his campaign is organizing on Saturday is not a political fundraiser.

But the other campaigns in the Democratic primary race for the 54th District seat in the House of Delegates aren’t so sure.

The Primary Voice Music Festival at the Jefferson Theater in downtown Charlottesville is billed on Norris’ website as a way “to remind everyone to vote in the upcoming Democratic Primary.”

“That’s the way the concert is billed,” Norris’ opponent Bellamy Brown told The Daily Progress, “but it’s specifically designed to boost his campaign. It’s not billed with all three candidates in the primary.”

Josh Norris, campaign manager for the race’s other contender Katrina Callsen, noted that advertisements for the concert explicitly feature Dave Norris’ campaign logo.

“If there’s a campaign putting something out on its Facebook page and it’s a flyer to an event and it’s got their logo on it, to me that’s a campaign event,” he told The Daily Progress. “That’s just the rule of thumb.”

Dave Norris maintains it is not in anyway a campaign fundraiser.

“My campaign is organizing and sponsoring the event, and as such will of course be featured prominently,” he told The Daily Progress. “But the overarching goal is to encourage people to get out and vote in the June 20 primary, regardless of who they’re voting for.”

Although Dave Norris insists the event is simply intended to “increase participation in democracy,” neither of his opponents have been invited.

And neither plan to attend.

“It is Dave’s event, so no,” said Callsen.

“I wouldn’t go even if I was invited,” said Brown, adding, “If I wasn’t in the race, I’d go.”

Among the musicians slated to perform is Abbey Ellerglick, who has written a campaign song for Dave Norris.

“He even has a campaign song that says, ‘Go out and vote for Dave,’” Brown said.

As a former mayor of Charlottesville with a long history of involvement in local politics, Dave Norris is one of the more recognizable faces, and a top contender, in the primary race. Callsen is the chair of the Albemarle County School Board. Brown is the former chair of Charlottesville’s Police Civilian Oversight Board.

The question of whether the Saturday evening performance will be a campaign event masquerading as a pro-democracy concert is not simply an issue of semantics. Events that are not clearly billed as fundraisers for candidates but raise money for their campaigns could run afoul of campaign finance laws if those funds are not duly reported.

When contacted about this possibility, the Virginia Department of Elections told The Daily Progress it does not comment on hypothetical violations of code.

“Candidates have the Code of Virginia and the Candidate Committee Summary of Laws and Policies to guide them on proper campaign conduct regarding campaign finance,” Andrea Gaines, external affairs manager for the state agency, told The Daily Progress.

Michael Allenby, who is helping to organize the Saturday concert, told The Daily Progress that while most of the musicians will not be paid for the performance, the Norris campaign is footing the bill for the concert’s “hard costs.”

That is acceptable, according to the Department of Elections.

Dave Norris said the idea for the concert was spurred by his friends in the local music scene who asked if they could play music to support his campaign.

“They started putting the word out to other musicians and it really snowballed. Once they saw who else was playing they were like, ‘Yeah, I want to be in a lineup with that person,’” he said.

He added that he plans to take the stage a number of times during the concert.

Callsen said she wishes Dave Norris and his concert nothing but the best.

“I would love to attend if invited,” she said. “I think it’s always a good thing to get voters to the polls.”

Even though no formal invitation has been extended to Brown or Callsen, Dave Norris said his opponents in the race are still welcome if they change their minds.

“They’re welcome to come and enjoy some music,” he told The Daily Progress.

Votes will be cast in the Democratic primary on June 20.


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