Nonprofit Under Investigation Wins Registration Exemption In Virginia

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* By Jeff Testerman and John Martin St. Petersburg Times *

Virginia Sen. Patsy Ticer, a 75-year-old, five-term state senator, told the lobbyist for the U.S. Navy Veterans Association that she would be happy to sponsor a bill that would exempt the nonprofit from state registration requirements.

“It seemed like a nothing little bill,” Ticer said. “I thought it was about groups who do bake sales and hold Fourth of July parties.”

The bill sailed through the General Assembly, with 140 ayes and not one nay.

Then Ticer received an alarming e-mail from someone writing under the pseudonym John Jones Smith. The correspondent warned Ticer that the Navy Veterans group, founded in Tampa, might not be what it seemed.

“I thought you might be interested in seeing the news articles about the veterans group you introduced a bill on behalf of,” the e-mail said. “It seems this group doesn’t want to have to tell anyone what it does, how it does it, or even if it does it — and under your bill, it won’t have to tell Virginia either.”

Ticer’s aide read the articles, St. Petersburg Times stories headlined “Under the Radar,” and figured this was not anything the senator wanted to be associated with. Ticer asked the governor to veto her own bill.

But he had already signed it. Come July 1, the Navy Veterans and groups like it can solicit donations in Virginia without having to file an audited financial statement or tax return.

Last week, with news that the Navy Veterans had been shut down in two states and was being investigated in others, Virginia officials scrambled to distance themselves from the campaign contributions they accepted from Bobby Thompson, the man behind the Navy Veterans group.

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