- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2001

Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley is under increasing criticism from Democrats and an independent campaign-watchdog group who say he is playing loose with campaign rules and his public office while running for the Republican nomination for governor.
The most recent evidence is his list of campaign steering committee members on his Web site, which shows one members name along with his federal office as a patent examiner. The federal Office of Special Counsel (OSC) says that violates the Hatch Act, a law prohibiting federal employees from mixing their official positions with campaigns.
Yesterday evening, the Earley campaign removed the mans federal title from the site.
But critics say the Web site is just another example of the states top law enforcement official operating on the line between officeholder and campaigner.
"He was elected to do a certain job. Not only is he not performing that full time, while neglecting it hes taking advantage of it and abusing the public trust and tax dollars to support his struggling campaign," said Mary Broz, spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, who has made hay during the last month tracking Mr. Earleys whereabouts and campaign activities.
Mr. Earleys spokesman at the Attorney Generals Office said they work hard to keep from crossing the lines between his official business and campaigning, and a campaign spokesman said they werent trying to gain any advantage by printing the steering committee members federal position — it was just another name in a long list, on which each persons occupation was listed.
Mr. Earley and Lt. Gov. John H. Hager are vying for the Republican nomination for governor, and the candidate will be selected at a June nominating convention in Richmond. The winner will go on to face businessman Mark R. Warner, who is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
Democrats charge that Mr. Earley uses his three-person attorney generals press office for campaigning, that his official brochures blur the line between attorney general business and campaigning, and that his official trips often correspond with political events at the same location on the same day.
They point to the Shad Planking fest in Wakefield last week — attended by all three of his office press staffers — as a prime example.
David Botkins, Mr. Earleys office spokesman, said all three press officers took official leave to be at the Shad Planking as private citizens. He also responded to questions about Mr. Earleys campaign and schedules by saying Mr. Earley is attorney general 24 hours a day.
Mr. Botkins disputed the charge that Mr. Earley has used his office publications to promote himself: "There are no more pictures of Mark Earley on anything than there were of Jim Gilmore or Mary Sue Terry or Gerry Baliles when they were attorney general," he said.
But Steve Calos, director of the campaign-watchdog group Common Cause of Virginia, said as the top law enforcement officer the attorney general should be vigilant, instead of blurring the line between campaigning and official business in a way never before seen in Virginia politics.
"Throughout his tenure as attorney general hes very artfully done politicking on the state dime," Mr. Calos said.
The Hatch Act violation was on a Web page detailing members of Mr. Earleys campaign steering committee. Harold Pyon, the chairman of the Asian-American employment subcommittee at the Department of Commerce and a supervisory patent examiner, was listed with those two federal positions.
"You cant have your official federal office identified if youre participating in partisan politics," said Jane McFarland, a spokeswoman for the OSC, which is charged with investigating and prosecuting violations.
She said a violation like this, which probably falls in the unwillful category, would usually carry the penalty of a warning letter to the federal employee telling him to correct the violation and make sure it doesnt happen again. A willful violation could result in an employees suspension or dismissal. There is no possible penalty to the campaign.
"I didnt put it in there, so Im going to tell them to remove my position," Mr. Pyon said. And within an hour the campaign had done that, replacing it with "president, Korean American Coalition."
There was some confusion about whether the Hatch Act applied in this case. Lawyers for Mr. Earleys campaign said it didnt, while a lawyer for Mr. Warners campaign said it did. A spokeswoman at the Patent and Trade Office, for which Mr. Pyon works, also said her office saw no problem with the site listing since it was only a steering committee.
Allegations of Hatch Act violations pop up occasionally. John Huang, also a Commerce Department employee, was accused of violating the Hatch Act by raising money for the Democratic Party while still on the federal payroll during the Clinton administration.
Democrats said Mr. Earleys pattern is troubling.
"I think there are a lot of questions that are being raised, and ultimately it will be up to the voters to decide whether or not this is a misuse of his office," said Mo Elleithee, a spokesman for Mr. Warner.
Quintin Kendall, a spokesman for Mr. Earleys campaign, said the entire issue is a "smoke screen" to divert attention away from the issues facing the state.
"Mark Warner talks about a different approach — 'politics as usual isnt going to fly — yet he continues to have his Democratic Party continue to talk about petty partisan issues that come around every year," Mr. Kendall said.
Mr. Warner had his own experience with blurring public-campaign lines when the sheriff of Prince William County provided a Warner campaign event with an escort in March. Some Republican members of the county board faulted the sheriff, saying he used his deputies for a partisan purpose.

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