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  Police and Fire Unions Also Investigated Beckles
October 9, 2010

Police and fire unions also investigated Beckles

By: David Ferry | October 8, 2010 – 8:23 pm |

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin is not the only candidate the police and firefighter unions are interested in investigating.

According to the most recent campaign filing from Richmond First — a political action committee funded primarily by the police and fire unions — the groups have also spent $5,000 to conduct opposition research on city council candidate Jovanka Beckles. The report was obtained by Richmond Confidential yesterday.

The two unions, through Richmond First, paid investigative research firm VR Research a total of $15,000 to delve into McLaughlin and Beckles’ history. The firm, which unearthed McLaughlin’s 2001 bankruptcy and history of depression, specializes in vetting “prospective business partners, executive hires or others,” according to its website.

Richmond Police Officers Association President Sgt. Andre Hill said he was not familiar with the investigation and was not certain the organization had commissioned research into Beckles’ background. Calls to Firefighters Local 188 president Jim Russey and VR Research were not returned today.

When informed of the opposition research, Beckles said she was shocked.

“It’s a shame,” Beckles said. “I’m really, really disgusted by this.”

Beckles, a progressive, is running on a slate with the mayor. She narrowly missed gaining a seat on the council in 2008, when she finished about 400 votes behind councilmember Tom Butt.

In addition to spending $5,000 on research, Richmond First PAC also spent $1,676 on “signs in opposition to Jovanka Beckles.”

From July to September, Richmond First PAC received a total of $47,100 in contributions — all of it from local firefighter and police union PACs.

Although at their press conference on Tuesday the unions declined to endorse any candidate for mayor, Richmond First PAC donated $2,500 to Friends of Nat Bates in 2008, and spent $77,054 in support of Bates’ campaign that year.

Beckles said she does not know why the unions targeted her for investigation. She joked that she may be polling well, but chalked it up to her campaign platform.

“They’re going to do whatever they can to help defeat a candidate that has a vision,” she said.