Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Richmond City Council member’s fundraising might violate state law

A beaming Ann-Frances Lambert
Scott Elmquist
VPM News
3rd District Councilmember Ann-Frances Lambert as seen Jan. 3, 2023 in the City Council Chambers.

Ann-Frances Lambert failed to set up a campaign committee for her current House of Delegates run.

Richmond City Councilmember Ann-Frances Lambert has spent over a month soliciting campaign donations in a bid to join Virginia’s House of Delegates.

But the Democrat, who is in a three-way primary for the 79th House District seat in the eastern half of Richmond, never set up a campaign committee to collect contributions in an apparent violation of state campaign finance law.

Lambert’s campaign website contains a prominent “Donate” button that links to a page run by the Democratic donation site ActBlue asking for contributions of $7 or $9. She also made a call for donations at her Jan. 15 campaign kickoff event, according to a video posted to her website.

“As you all can see around the room, there's little QR codes that we put together. That takes you right to my website that takes you to where you can donate, you can volunteer,” Lambert told the crowd.

State law requires candidates to file a “statement of organization” within 10 days of accepting donations or expending funds for office in Virginia. Violators of the law can be fined up to $500.

Lambert’s House campaign website was registered on Nov. 28, 2022 with the web host Her fundraising committee for City Council reported a $40 payment to the company the following day.

Lambert did not respond to emails, Instagram messages or voicemail messages left with an aide for this story.

The lack of financial reporting makes it unclear how Lambert’s fundraising stacks up against her opponents for the June 20 Democratic primary: attorney Rae Cousins and Richard Walker, CEO of the nonprofit Bridging the Gap in Virginia. Cousins reported raising more than $181,000 as of the end of last year, including a $100,000 donation from the clean energy group Clean Virginia — and a separate $35,000 from Charlottesville philanthropist Sonjia Smith, who is married to Clean Virginia’s main backer, Michael Bills. Walker announced his candidacy after the last reporting deadline.

The winner of the primary faces favorable odds in the newly redrawn, heavily Democratic district that encompasses much of Richmond’s Northside, Southside and East End neighborhoods.

Lambert’s father, Benjamin Lambert III, served in the General Assembly as a delegate and state senator from 1986 to 2007.

Ann-Frances Lambert was elected to represent the Northside District on City Council in 2020, where she helped select the development team behind the planned Diamond District project and supported a proposal to give city employees more leeway in collective bargaining.

She’s also drawn controversy. Lambert voiced her hesitancy over getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and clashed with some Northside residents over their support for traffic-calming measures. In November, she drew a backlash on Twitter after calling another user a “Karen” for complaining about a truck blocking a sidewalk.

Lambert and her brothers previously operated Hyperlink Café on Grace Street, an internet lounge and oxygen bar. A 2005 Richmond Times-Dispatch review noted the cafe offered 20 different “scents” and mixtures like “hangover helper” and “invigorating.” Reviewer Paige Akin tested “clarity” and likened it to “easing your way into a cool swimming pool on a steamy Richmond afternoon.”

The business faced lawsuits from contractors in 2004 and, operating under the name Xscape, was padlocked by state tax officials in 2011 over an unpaid tax bill totalling more than $76,000, according to Style Weekly. It’s unclear if Ann-Frances was still involved in the business at the time. Court records indicate the state released its lien on Hyperlink Café LLC in 2016.

Political analyst Bob Holsworth predicted neither the former tax bill nor the apparent campaign finance violation would doom Lambert’s candidacy.

“Campaign finance violations, unless they are extraordinarily egregious, rarely motivate voters in primaries,” Holsworth said. “Since she’s been elected to council since the tax situation was resolved, it seems to me that her opponents will have to examine her record and suggest why she doesn’t deserve a promotion.”

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.