Conservative PAC contributed to last year’s School Board race, records show

Published 9:11 am Tuesday, February 21, 2023

A Mechanicsville-based political action committee played a marginal role in giving Isle of Wight County’s five-member School Board its conservative majority.

Campaign finance reports filed by newly elected District 4 School Board member Jason Maresh show a $750 non-monetary contribution on Oct. 3 from the Middle Resolution PAC. The donation, which is described in Maresh’s filings as the fair market value for the creation of his campaign website, accounts for roughly 33% of the total $2,236.70 in monetary and non-monetary campaign contributions he reported as of Dec. 31 for the 2022 election cycle.

Middle Resolution, according to its website, is “committed to identifying and electing qualified candidates who align with core conservative principles.” Since its founding in 2009, it’s helped “over 30 pro-freedom candidates get elected to office,” the PAC’s website states.

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Maresh billed himself as the conservative choice in his bid to oust his predecessor, Michael Vines, in November. The Nov. 8 election results also saw Mark Wooster, another self-described conservative candidate, win his bid to oust Renee Dial from the District 2 seat. John Collick, who won the District 5 seat in 2021, had secured the endorsement of the Isle of Wight County Republican Party and a $150 donation from the political organization, though state law doesn’t allow county-level candidates to print their party affiliation on the ballot. Collick also received a $150 donation from Don Rosie, who holds the Carrsville-area District 5 seat on the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors.

Maresh wasn’t among the seven school board candidates Middle Resolution officially endorsed during the 2022 election cycle. Middle Resolution’s website lists endorsements for seven candidates: four in Virginia Beach, one in Manassas, one in Powhatan County and one in Bedford County.

Prior to taking office, Maresh would frequently use the public comment period at School Board meetings to argue his belief that Isle of Wight County Schools was “indoctrinating” students with Critical Race Theory through equity initiatives and social justice-themed books. The legal theory, which Gov. Glenn Youngkin and other politicians have called “divisive,” argues American laws and institutions have perpetuated inequalities among minorities.

Now roughly three months into his first term, he’s proposed policy changes that would ban teaching on “systemic racism” in Isle of Wight County Schools. The proposal drew condemnation from multiple teachers at the board’s Feb. 9 meeting, among them Smithfield High School history and government teacher Matthew Ployd.

“Who determines what constitutes a violation of this policy? … Do we just let Middle Resolution PAC determine the outcome, especially considering the amount of money they sank into specific campaigns in the last election cycle?” Ployd asked.

Maresh, in an email to The Smithfield Times, denied either himself or other board members being swayed by Middle Resolution.

“I’ve maintained conservative values and positions long before I decided to run for school board and long before Middle Resolution provided me with a donation in the form of web design services,” Maresh said. “Furthermore, I make a continuous and deliberate effort to consider various perspectives when doing my work on the school board. Every citizen that has contacted me since my short time on the school board, negative and positive comments, has received a personal response from me and I often exchange thoughts and ideas with those willing to engage in conversation. I also actively seek out opinions and solicit feedback from people that I know do not align with my personals views.  In my view, to only engage and exchange ideas with those that are like-minded is short sighted and foolish.”

Wooster’s campaign finance reports don’t list any donations from political organizations. They do, however, show a $150 cash donation from Angie Sadler of Emporia, wife of District 17 state Senate candidate and former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler. The September donation, made nearly two months prior to Hermie’s candidacy announcement, accounts for just under 6% of the total $2,509.69 Wooster reported in monetary and non-monetary contributions as of Dec. 31 for the 2022 election cycle.

Sadler is running against Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, for the Virginia Republican Party’s nomination for the open Senate seat. The race will be decided by a convention this spring.

Campaign finance reports for School Board member Michael Cunningham, who won the District 3 seat in 2021, likewise show no donations from political organizations and two donations totaling $500 from relatives in Hopewell. The donations amount to 30% of the $1,655.25 Cunningham reported for the end of the 2021 election cycle. A campaign finance report for Denise Tynes, who holds the District 1 seat and was last elected in 2019, shows no campaign contributions, political or otherwise, for that year. 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify Angie Sadler’s donation was made prior to her husband, Hermie, announcing his candidacy for state Senate, and to add John Collick also received a $150 donation from Isle of Wight County Supervisor Don Rosie.