A Virginia GOP congressional committee has voted to spend up to $30,000 in legal fees to defend allies of failed congressional candidate Cynthia Dunbar, a move that could potentially consume most of the $35,000 currently in the committee’s account.
On Saturday, members of the Sixth District Republican Committee voted 20-12 to hire a Republican attorney from Indiana to defend Scott Sayre, a former committee chairman and Dunbar supporter, as well as a handful of other party officials implicated in three federal campaign finance complaints.
Two of the complaints — which grew out of allegations that the Sayre-led committee was working to help Dunbar’s campaign — include accusations against the committee as a whole.
The committee’s new chairwoman, Jennifer Brown, publicly denounced the move, saying it would divert money that could be used for get-out-the-vote efforts in support of GOP congressional nominee Ben Cline, a state delegate who defeated Dunbar at a convention last month.
“This was definitely a big slap in the face to our nominee,” said Brown, a Harrisonburg attorney who unseated Sayre last month. Brown said she feels the vote, which came during her first meeting as chairwoman, was an attempt to “hamstring” her ability to run the committee.
Cline, R-Rockbridge, declined to comment.
The committee funds aren’t critical to Cline’s chances of success in the red-leaning district, which stretches from the Shenandoah Valley to Lexington, Lynchburg and Roanoke. But the money dispute suggests Dunbar’s die-hard supporters aren’t ready to give up their long-running battle with the party establishment.
Cline’s Democratic challenger is Jennifer Lewis, a mental health worker from Waynesboro.
After Dunbar lost at the May 19 6th District convention in Harrisonburg, her supporters came shockingly close to making her the nominee in a neighboring congressional district in early June after Rep. Tom Garrett, R-5th, abruptly announced he’ll retire from Congress at the end of his term.
After the 6th District convention, Brown said, Dunbar supporters pushed unsuccessfully to have the FEC complaints withdrawn.
The funds that could be used to pay the lawyer are the proceeds from the 6th District nominating convention. Congressional candidates participating in the event were required to pay a $5,000 filing fee.
The pro-Dunbar majority on the committee voted to hire attorney James Bopp Jr., a former Republican National Committee member and campaign finance specialist who runs a law practice in Terre Haute, Ind.
Bopp had already been working with the Dunbar campaign to respond to the first of the FEC complaints, which claimed that Dunbar’s paid work for Sayre’s company last year may have been an illegal in-kind contribution.
The Dunbar campaign denied wrongdoing and accused Cline of being behind the complaint.
Brown said the motion to hire the lawyer was made by Ken Adams, the chairman of the Waynesboro Republican Committee. Adams is also the founder of the anti-abortion group Day of Tears, which lists Dunbar as its vice president of development.
Adams and Sayre did not respond to requests for comment.
The Republican Party of Virginia could eventually intervene in the matter, but a state GOP official said the dispute first has to be dealt with at the district level.
Wendell Walker, a GOP activist from Lynchburg who serves as the state party’s western district vice chairman, said the pro-Dunbar forces have put the party in a “terrible position” by redirecting money that could have been used to help Republican candidates.
“It was basically, ‘To hell with the party. We don’t care if Ben wins or not,’” Walker said.