RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – A Democratic activist leading the anti-casino push in Richmond is accusing the state of undermining his effort against the proposed project.
Paul Goldman, a longtime activist who served as the Virginia Democratic Party’s chairman and advised state governors, asked to buy a registered voter list for his referendum committee, No Means No Casino, from the state’s Department of Elections.
When the department refused and told Goldman he could take steps to get another voter list, he sued state officials, including Virginia Elections Commissioner Susan Beals and members of the state Board of Elections, claiming state statutes on such requests violate his constitutional rights.
The case was transferred to federal court, where a judge ordered the department to hand over lists of persons who voted in Richmond in 2021 and 2022. But with early votes coming in and Election Day two weeks away, Goldman said the damage has already been done to his campaign.
“The election will be over by the time I get these lists, but what I got is what I got,” Goldman told 8News Tuesday.
Goldman said he received one voter list from 2021 since the judge’s order on Oct. 20, but that it only had 44,000 voters on it – far fewer than the total votes cast on the proposed casino that year.
Emails show Goldman was told in August that referendum committees could not buy registered voter lists but that he could get a list of those who voted in a particular election if he sent a formal request and the communications — what he wanted to send to voters — so the elections department could “verify that it does not constitute ‘intimidation or pressure.'”
But in an Oct. 16 court filing, Beals acknowledged that the elections department does not ask people for their planned communications to voters before giving out lists of people who voted in certain elections and has not since Sept. 29.
“The Department also has updated its standard operating procedures (SOP) and has removed any indication that Department staff should request the proposed communication,” Beals wrote in the filing. “I have further directed my staff that they should not ask to see a proposed communication before approving a request for the LTWV from a member of the general public.”
Goldman told 8News he wasn’t aware of any shift in the policy until getting the filing and that he, and the federal court, were left in the dark. He accused the state of irreparably harming his campaign by not providing the voter lists in August or after the policy change.
“These are the top election officials in the state. Some have even run for office. Of course, they knew they were damaging me,” Goldman said. “They never explained the switch. This is the most egregious thing I’ve seen from the state in an election year.”
Spokespeople for the attorney general’s office and the state Department of Elections did not comment on Goldman’s accusations, citing the pending litigation. State Board of Elections Chairman John O’Bannon also pointed to the pending legal case when declining to comment.
Richmond voters have been casting ballots on the proposed $562 million casino from RVA Entertainment Holdings – a joint venture of Urban One Inc. and Churchill Downs – since early voting started on Sept. 22. Early voter turnout is low, but figures show most are coming from the South Richmond district, where the proposed project would be built.
Goldman has described Richmond’s casino race as a bigger underdog story than David vs. Goliath, pointing to the record-breaking funding from the proposed casino developers for the pro-casino referendum committee and the money that his committee has been able to raise.
The pro-casino committee — Richmond Wins, Vote Yes – has raised more than $8.4 million and spent $6 million from August to the end of September, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. VPAP shows Goldman’s committee has spent nearly all of the more than $260,000 it has raised from late July to the end of September.
“I’ve lost weeks of running the campaign I wanted to run. I don’t have time to be ticked off, I’ve got a campaign to run,” Goldman said. “Yeah, I’m furious, but it’s not going to help me.”