A mixup over a donation in a high stakes race

dress@dailypress.com

One of the biggest campaign donations in this year's races for the James City County Board of Supervisors came from the son of a man who is suing the county – but that fact was only disclosed five months after the money came in.

The $1,000 donation to candidate Heather Cordasco came from Richard S. Ashe, son of developer H.R. "Dick" Ashe.

Dick Ashe owns more than half of the limited liability company that in turn owns the $204,000, four-bedroom, three-bath house on Jamestown Road which county payroll records show as supervisor Mary Jones' address.

His son Richard, who doesn't live in James City but who owns a rental house there, said he made the donation because he felt it is time for a change of leadership in the county. He said his father did not ask him to make the donation to Cordasco.

Dick Ashe is suing the county after the Board of Supervisors rejected his request that it make the owners of land next to an undeveloped parcel he owns provide a street connection to his property, as part of a rezoning.

In its response, the county said Ashe and his neighbor, the group seeking to develop the Candle Factory property, were unable to agree on what Ashe should pay the group for making the street connection.

When the Board of Supervisors opened a public hearing on the rezoning, Jones raised the issue of the street connection Ashe had complained of, though without naming him, the video record of the hearing shows.

After Ashe sued the county, Jones recused herself from a closed session to discuss the case. She said she did so because husband previously represented Ashe. She has declined to elaborate.

Jones moved to the Jamestown Road home Ashe's firm owns after a bank took over the house she and her husband had owned, just to the east of Jamestown High School.

Neither Cordasco, Jones nor Dick Ashe would respond to questions about their financial relationships, despite repeated phone calls and emails.

Cordasco initially reported the $1,000 donation on her May 29 campaign finance filing with the state Department of Elections as coming from a Richard Ash, described as a business owner in Newport News.

The firm's required registration with the State Corporation Commission lapsed in 2010.

When James City County Democratic Committee chair Jennifer Tierney contacted Ash he told her did not know Cordasco. Ash is a resident of New Jersey but serves as executive director of the Alan B. Miller Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of William and Mary.

Ash told her he had not made the donation, which was the largest one Cordasco had received when she filed the report.

When Tierney asked Cordasco about that, her campaign treasurer, Charles K. Young, wrote back to say the error was his and that it was inadvertent.

Young said he has since corrected the report.

Young and Cordasco declined to return repeated emails and phone calls asking them to explain how they could be confused about who had given what was at the time the largest donation the campaign had received, except to complain about the Virginia Gazette and its coverage.

Asked if the confusion over Richard Ashe's donation was because the donation did not come in the form of a check or if it was not presented directly to the candidate or her treasurer, Cordasco would not answer.

Rising campaign funds

As the cost of running for the county board has climbed – the two winners in the 2013 election each spent more than $40,000 compared to the $18,000 the biggest spender laid out in 2007 – developers have played an important financial role in many candidates' races.

Nearly 16 percent of the more than $28,000 Cordasco raised before the Labor Day start of high campaign season came from developers.

She's already raised more than any candidate in the past five general elections except for the 2013 victors, Michael Hipple and Kevin Onizuk, and Jack Fraley, who made an unsuccessful bid in 2011 for the seat Cordasco is now seeking.

Cordasco's opponent, Supervisor John McGlennon, has raised just under $17,000. None of his donations come from developers, and he says he will not accept any because of the possibility of conflicts of interest since the board regularly decides land use questions.

Jones has so far raised just under $9,400, with 9 percent coming from real estate interests, well below her 2011 total of $20,000, with nearly 14 percent coming from developers. Her opponent for the Berkeley district seat, Ruth Larson, raised $6,000, none of it from developers.

Cordasco and Jones are running as Republicans. McGlennon is a Democrat and Larson is an independent.

In the Stonehouse district, Republican candidate Sue Sadler has raised $24,745, with 11 percent coming from developers. Her opponent, independent Jim Kennedy, has raised no money but does have a balance of $17,377 left from his 2011 campaign, of which 8 percent came from developers.

While Richard Ashe's $1,000 donation to Cordasco is his first ever, Dick Ashe has given total of $25,734 to political candidates since 1997, including $10,068 to his own unsuccessful 2001 run as an independent for the seat now held by Del. Brenda Pogge, R-Norge.

Ress can be reached by telephone at 757-247-4535

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