- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2000

RICHMOND, Va. Several General Assembly Democrats said they will sue Gov. James S. Gilmore III's Republican administration over $1.2 million in state-paid ads they contend benefit the GOP's candidate for the U.S. Senate.

On General Assembly stationery, Delegate Bob Brink, Arlington Democrat, and three other Democrats said they will sue in state court "to prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars for political purposes."

The lawsuit targets a group of 30-second ads by the Virginia Lottery that tout the state's Standards of Learning student-testing program, which was Republican George Allen's chief educational achievement during his term as governor. Mr. Allen is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb.

The ads depict children in classrooms while teachers who narrate the 30-second commercials praise the standardized tests. The Virginia Lottery is paying for the ads. Lottery spokesman Ed Scarborough said the ads are a proper use of state money because they inform taxpayers that all lottery profits now go to local schools exclusively for public education.

The ads neither show Mr. Allen nor mention him, but Democrats have complained that they appear to tout the SOLs for Mr. Allen in a tight election race in which education has become the leading issue.

The ads debuted in June for a three-week run that lasted into mid-July, then were revived in late September for a seven-week run that will end on Nov. 5, two days before the Senate election.

"This thinly veiled political and public relations ploy, paid for with taxpayer money, will neither improve education nor correct the flaws in the SOL tests themselves," said state Sen. Linda "Toddy" Puller, Fairfax Democrat.

"These are public dollars designated to fund education initiatives, not to fund slick public relations schemes concocted with George Allen's former campaign manager that just happen to coincide with the Nov. 7 elections."

Added Delegate Albert Pollard, Lancaster Democrat: "What's next? Another $1.2 million from the Corrections Department to tell us about parole reform?"

Abolition of parole during a special General Assembly session in 1994, the first year of Mr. Allen's term, was the crowning achievement of Mr. Allen's administration.

The concept for the ads was reviewed by members of Mr. Gilmore's administration, including his chief of staff, Boyd Marcus, a former GOP consultant who worked on Mr. Allen's 1993 gubernatorial campaign, and Mark Christie, a member of the state Board of Education who was chief counsel to Mr. Allen when he was governor and now assists his Senate campaign.

Kirk Schroder, who also was involved in the early discussions about the ads, said no thought was ever given to the Senate race at the time of those talks or at any point since and that suggestions to the contrary are ludicrous.

"These [Democrats] are the same people who fought against allowing the lottery proceeds go back to the localities and fought against accountability and higher standards in Virginia schools," said Mr. Gilmore's press secretary, Mark Miner, who was also in on the discussions.

"The people of Virginia have a right to know where the proceeds are going and how the standards of learning affect their children," Mr. Miner said. "Three-hundred million dollars are now going back to local schools thanks to Governor Gilmore's leadership."

Mr. Robb, during a campaign stop in Richmond, said Mr. Allen ought not be getting state help during campaign season.

"It seems to me that the timing of these particular ads is incredibly suspicious," Mr. Robb said.

Allen campaign officials said they had nothing to do with the ads and knew nothing about them.

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