He's likely November's strong-est contender for Richmond mayor, but the "Will he or won't he?" rumors flying around Mayor L. Douglas Wilder's re-election bid may hinge on a pesky law and a Catch-22 created by his son nearly two decades ago.
Wilder's final campaign finance report from his 1989 gubernatorial campaign -- which still hasn't been filed is required in order for Wilder to become eligible to run for re-election as mayor. (After his election in 2004, a state law went into effect requiring that old accounts be closed before re-election.)
The mayor could face unique obstacles in completing that report to the satisfaction of State Board of Election officials, who still want to know what happened to the missing $172,000 from the fund.
The issue appeared to be resolved with the December conviction of Wilder's son and former gubernatorial campaign treasurer, Lawrence D. Wilder Jr., for election-law violations related to his failure to file proper or timely campaign finance reports.
Though not specifically addressed as part of that plea agreement, the missing $172,000 was accounted for in a December letter sent by Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring, who confirms that the money ended up in Wilder Jr.'s hands.
While Herring's letter reveals who took the missing funds, the city's top prosecutor has stalwartly maintained that his job was never to determine where the money was spent and why.
In a letter to Mayor Wilder dated Feb. 27, State Board of Elections' Chairwoman Nancy Rodrigues notes that because his former political adviser, Paul Goldman, resigned as temporary treasurer of the gubernatorial campaign in August 2006, Wilder becomes his own treasurer by default and must account for where the money went.
"I did the best I could," Goldman says of his own attempts to determine what happened to the money. During his time as treasurer in 2005 and 2006, Goldman tried to get to the bottom of things. "I could never get actual proof [of where, why] or when it was spent," he says. "That's one of the things that's left open."
Problem is, in revealing the where and why to properly complete the final finance report, Wilder may "open up a whole other can of worms" related to his son's activities as treasurer, says Goldman, a rival for Wilder's mayoral seat.
At the conclusion of Herring's investigation and prosecution of the matter, Wilder declined to press criminal charges against his son. In his December letter to election officials, Herring hoped that his written confirmation that Wilder's son took the money would suffice, "and it appears that all that needs to be done now is for a representative of the campaign to state that."
As it is, Wilder may want to file that final report soon. With just a few months remaining before the deadline to file his papers to run for re-election as Richmond's mayor, his final gubernatorial campaign finance report must first pass muster with Rodrigues. The report is due July 15.
The State Board chairwoman's letter ends with a review of applicable state law: "It shall be unlawful for any person to convert any contributed moneys, securities, or like intangible personal property to his personal use."