Apr 15, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Veiled attacks rile Virginia governor's race

Illustration of a mask made to look like an election pin that reads "vote"
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new political group in Virginia is taking pains to keep the people behind it a secret. And one candidate in the state's gubernatorial race claims it is buying ads designed to falsely make it look like they're coming from him.

Why it matters: The group, dubbed the Patriot Leadership Trust, has succeeded in hiding the identities of its principals, depriving Virginians of information about the people and interests seeking to sway their votes in a bellwether off-year race.

What's happening: The Patriot Leadership Trust has bought radio ads and direct mail pieces attacking Glenn Youngkin, a former private equity executive vying for the Republican nomination.

  • Its latest direct mail piece, which attacked Youngkin over his ostensible support for the Southern Poverty Law Center, drew condemnation Wednesday from one of Youngkin's rivals, Virginia's former Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox.
  • Cox accused the Patriot Leadership Trust of attempting to give the false impression that the attack came from his campaign, citing similarities in its name and mailing address to those of a PAC affiliated with Cox.
  • “This is the latest in a series of attacks launched by shadowy PACs that are potentially violating the letter and spirit of Virginia’s campaign finance laws,” Cox said in a statement.

The intrigue: Cox was very clear the mail piece "is not coming from me, or anyone associated with me." Who it is coming from is less clear.

  • The Patriot Leadership Trust was formed April 6. It won't have to disclose its donors, paid staffers or consultants until July, more than two months after the nomination fight ends.
  • Its mailing address is a post office box. Its phone number greets callers with an automated voicemail message. Its website contains no identifying details and uses a service that hides web domain registration information.
  • When the group began buying radio ads last week, some station representatives pressed the group for more information about its officers, who must be disclosed in filings with the Federal Communications Commission.
  • It responded that its only officer is its treasurer, Paul Kilgore, a compliance consultant who works with hundreds of Republican-aligned groups.

Between the lines: The Patriot Leadership Trust is just the latest independent spender to jump into the Virginia governor's race, and it's hitting the same lines of attack against Youngkin as some others.

  • At the same time, it's also putting out direct mail going after a handful of House Democrats from Virginia, FEC records show.
  • On Monday, the Patriot Leadership Trust reported paying a company called Dominion Creative LLC to produce those direct mail pieces.
  • Corporate records show Dominion was formed on April 1 — five days before the Patriot Leadership Trust.
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