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Times-Dispatch Suspends Two for Political Donations

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Correction: In print and earlier online editions, we misidentified Eva Teig Hardy, a well-known lobbyist and wife of political reporter Michael Hardy.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has suspended a reporter and a copy editor for making political donations, a breach of the paper's code of ethics.

The suspensions followed an MSNBC.com story in June naming Michael Hardy, a Times-Dispatch statehouse reporter, and Pam Mastropaolo, a copy editor, among 143 media professionals from across the country who gave cash to political candidates and parties.

Hardy gave $1,000 in February 2006 to Matt Brown, who was running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Rhode Island. Brown pulled out of the race two months later after a fundraising controversy.

Mastropaolo gave $1,650 to the Democratic Party of Virginia in February 2007 and $1,165 in February 2006.

The 30-day no-pay suspensions began June 27. The newspaper's union, however, calls the punishment improper and plans to file a grievance this week against Media General, which owns the Times-Dispatch.

A letter from Managing Editor Peggy Bellows to Hardy, obtained by Style, cites the Newsroom's Guidelines for Professional Conduct, which informs employees that "they must not be active in politics and should guard against public activities or exhibitions in areas of controversy. Some general examples include not donating money or advice to political campaigns."

The letter tells Hardy that his actions "negatively impact the Richmond Times-Dispatch as well as your credibility as a journalist."

T-D spokeswoman Frazier Millner confirms that "disciplinary action" has been taken, but declines to comment further. She points out that of Media General's "1,930-plus journalists, broadcast, print and online," only two "violated the code."

The T-D ran an apology to readers June 28, not mentioning the employees by name but saying that they'd been disciplined.

The paper's newsroom union lawyer, Jay Levit, takes issue with Millner's characterization of the employee handbook and guidelines as "code." He says that "guidelines" are just that, and that they were not negotiated with the union, meaning they can't be used to punish employees.

Hardy, a 24-year veteran of the paper, gave notice a week before the suspension that he planned to retire at the end of the month. Union president and City Hall reporter Michael Martz says that in a recent meeting, Hardy told Bellows and Human Resources Director Ron Carey that he did not know the candidate and contributed at the suggestion of his wife, Eva Teig Hardy, a well-known lobbyist for Dominion Virginia Power.

In stories that relate to Dominion Virginia Power, the paper discloses the Hardys' marriage in the same way it discloses that U.S. Representative Eric Cantor's wife, Diana, sits on the board of Media General, the company that owns the T-D.

In a similar meeting, Mastropaolo told Bellows and Carey that her donations were for the full cost of a table at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner for the Caroline County Democratic Party, but that she was reimbursed for all but her seat at the table. Martz says Mastropaolo previously disclosed her political activities to her supervisors.

Still, when it comes to reporters making political donations, Martz says, "Generally, I would say I would not do it." S

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