Bill Woolf, the Republican running against Virginia Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) in the commonwealth’s key 30th Senate District, had a political commercial yanked from the airwaves for violating a state campaign law. The commercial aired on Comcast stations in the Northern Virginia area.
Woolf’s ad attacked Roem over the issue of transgender participation in girls’ sports.
Featuring pictures of a female soccer player kicking goals, it notes that Woolf is the father of four girls, and laments that allowing a transgender female athlete — referred to as a “boy” in the narrator’s speech — steals opportunities from cisgender females and violates the spirit of “fair competition.”
“As your state senator, Bill Woolf will never vote to stop fair competition in girls’ sports,” the narrator says. A voiceover from Woolf then states: “I’m Bill Woolf, and my campaign paid for this ad.”
Unfortunately for Woolf, the disclosure statement at the end of the ad appears to violate the “Stand By Your Ad” law, which sets forth criteria for disclosure statements that must be included on candidates’ signs, on mailers, and in television ads, in order to inform voters of who, or which entities, are sponsoring or funding certain political messages.
According to the statute, a candidate or candidate campaign committee that seeks to air a television advertisement must include a “visual legend” constituting “20 scan lines in size” in the ad reading, “Paid for by [name of the candidate or campaign committee sponsoring the ad].”
If the ad references another candidate by name — as Woolf’s does, specifically mentioning Roem — the candidate must include a disclosure statement spoken by the sponsoring candidate, saying: “I am” or “This is” followed by their name, the office for which they are running, and disclosing that the candidate or their campaign “paid for this ad.”
Because Woolf’s ad lacked notification about the office for which he is running, it technically violated the law.
The law does not deal with the content of any ad or mailer. Still, if candidates are missing a disclosure, they can see television stations refuse to air their ads or can be fined for violating the law — especially if an official complaint has been filed with the Virginia Department of Elections.
A source from Comcast with knowledge of the ad confirmed to Metro Weekly that the Woolf advertisement on girls’ sports had been removed from the airwaves in response to a complaint alleging violation of Virginia campaign laws. It was unclear which person or entity had first alerted the company to the alleged violation.
According to a spokesperson from the Virginia Department of Elections, the department has received no complaints alleging that the Woolf campaign violated the “Stand By Your Ad” law — even though Woolf’s disclosure statement at the end of the commercial does not abide by the law’s requirements.
The spokesperson noted that the department receives complaints regarding alleged violations of the “Stand By Your Ad” law through a submission form on its website.
Those complaints are received and processed by staff and presented to the Board of Elections for a decision on whether a violation has occurred, and the level of penalty that may be assessed against a candidate or campaign committee.
Roem’s campaign pounced on the campaign violation, casting it as part of a larger pattern of behavior by Woolf disregarding rules and protocol to achieve his goals.
“The Friends of Danica Roem for Senate campaign learned that Republican nominee Bill Woolf was running a cable TV advertisement with a transphobic attack against Del. Danica Roem, the first out and seated trans state legislator in American history,” Alia Kapasi, Roem’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “The ad violated Virginia’s ‘Stand by Your Ad’ law, which requires any political ads appearing on TV to include a disclosure statement spoken by the candidate. Subsequently, the cable system removed the ad.”
Kapasi also pointed to a Washington Post exposé in which an internal affairs investigation allegedly found that Woolf, a former Fairfax County police detective, would have been fired had he not chosen to resign in 2017, due to allegedly having reported being on duty while at another job.
According to the Post, Woolf “had repeatedly lied and disobeyed orders, and received police pay at least twice while moonlighting out of state.”
The Post reported that Woolf admitted to a record-keeping error and a “face-saving fib” but denied any wrongdoing, claiming he had been investigated in 2017 because he’d “ruffled some feathers” in the department.
Kapasi argued that Woolf’s actions while a police officer, coupled with flouting the law, demonstrate that “Woolf is still willing to break the rules to advance his own agenda.
“The residents of Virginia’s 30th District deserve someone who puts constituents first by focusing on fixing roads and feeding kids, not someone who singles out and stigmatizes the very people they are running to serve,” she added.
Neither Woolf nor an official from his campaign responded to a request for comment.
Woolf’s ad can resume running on Comcast if his campaign submits a replacement ad fixing the problems with the disclosure statement — meaning the attack against Roem could start airing again over the next few days.
Woolf’s decision to emphasize transgender participation in sports in his commercial appears to be borrowing from the larger Republican Party playbook, exploiting cisgender individuals’ discomfort with transgender visibility or gender-nonconformity by touting the need for restrictions on transgender athletes, bans on drag performances, restrictions on the type of gender-affirming care available to minors, and so-called “bathroom bans.”
Even Republican presidential candidates are emphasizing opposition to transgender identity, casting it as a mental health disorder, a form of “wokeness” and political correctness that seeks to “indoctrinate” children, or calling for across-the-board bans on transition-related care — not only for minors, but at any age.
Earlier this year, Virginia Republicans introduced 12 bills targeting transgender and gender-nonconforming communities. Two of those, including a bill prohibiting transgender athletes from competing on female-designated sports teams, passed the House of Delegates, but failed to gain traction in the Senate.
As a result, it stands to reason that, should Republicans gain control of both legislative chambers in this year’s elections — with the 30th District Senate seat considered one of this fall’s key races — they will push through similar bills.
If passed, those measures are more than likely to be signed into law by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has his own history of anti-LGBTQ stances and included a number of prominent anti-LGBTQ foes as part of his transition team.
Republicans’ emphasis on transgender and LGBTQ issues and their at-times inflammatory rhetoric appears to have crossed over into the general populace, with more Americans reporting that they are less supportive of transgender rights than they were two years ago, according to the polling organization Gallup.
Even in Prince William County, during a recent debate between Woolf and Roem, a heckler had to be asked to leave the room after she shouted anti-trans remarks and obscenities at Roem, according to the Prince William Times.
“Thank you for reminding me why I was re-elected in this district, in Prince William County, the most diverse county in the commonwealth and the 10th most diverse in the nation, where we welcome everyone because of who they are, not despite it,” Roem said in reply to the heckler’s outburst, drawing applause from the crowd of debate attendees.
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