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Virginia warns wife of Justice Clarence Thomas her group is violating law

State officials tell Virginia Thomas that her conservative advocacy group, Liberty Central Inc., must comply with a law that requires registration before seeking donations.

March 19, 2010|By Kathleen Hennessey

Reporting from Washington — Virginia consumer-protection officials have warned the wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that her advocacy group is improperly soliciting contributions in the state.

In a letter to Virginia Thomas on Thursday, the state Office of Consumer Affairs directed Liberty Central Inc. to the Virginia law that requires groups to register with the office or request an exemption before seeking donations for a charitable purpose.

Liberty Central is a Virginia-based group soliciting contributions online and is not registered or exempt, said Michael Wright, the manager of regulatory programs at the Office of Consumer Affairs, a branch of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Under state law, political advocacy is considered a charitable purpose.

"They should be filed with us," he said.

Thomas is the president and chief executive of Liberty Central, a nonprofit group hoping to mobilize conservatives online.

The group, which is aiming to appeal to small-government "tea party" activists, was incorporated in Delaware in January and is registered with the Virginia State Corporation Commission.

Thomas has said the group intends to seek donations from individuals and corporations. It also plans to issue score cards for members of Congress and be involved in the November election, although Thomas has not specified how.

Liberty Central national coordinator Sue Hamblen said Thursday she was not aware of the registration issue and would be looking into it.

Soliciting donations for a charitable purpose without registering with the Office of Consumers Affairs could result in fines of up to $5,000 for each violation, the letter said.

Wright said it was not unusual for a group to be unaware of the Virginia law.

"Our policy is to assist them to come in compliance with the law," he said.

In addition to its website solicitations, Liberty Central asked for donations in an e-mail this week, after The Times reported on the group and Thomas' unprecedented role as an outspoken political advocate married to a Supreme Court justice.

"Although we're just getting started, we're already under attack from the left and its allies in the liberal media!" the e-mail said, noting The Times' story. "Our fully functioning Liberty Central website will launch in early May, but we invite you to send friends, family members and other known 'patriots' to subscribe or donate."

khennessey@tribune.

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