by D.J. Rippert
Say governor, is that a Rolex you’re wearing? On Sept 4, 2014 former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell was found guilty of 11 counts of corruption. While the US Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction Chief Justice John G Roberts correctly described the former governor’s actions as “tawdry.” Back in Virginia, Governor McAuliffe formed an ethics panel to make recommendations and at least one law was passed limiting gifts from lobbyists to state politicians to $100 per year. Case closed, problem solved … right? Of course not! This is the Commonwealth of Corruption. The greased eels of the General Assembly aren’t going to let a little thing like a law “unline” their pockets.
Out of the office. One constant complaint by General Assembly members is how poorly they’re paid. They make about $18,000 per year. On an annual basis that’s pretty low. On a “units of value created” basis it’s astronomical given how little they accomplish to benefit the citizens of Virginia. Either way, they also get a $15,000 allowance for “office expenses.” That’s a lot of Bic pens. In fact, it’s income. Former Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling wanted to reclassify the money as income. “It’s not that they would make more money, but we would actually be transparent about the money they were making,” said Bolling. “Let’s call it what it is: It’s income.” No wonder he’s no longer active in Virginia politics!
Buddy, can you spare a dime, or $100,000? The $100 gift limit has several minor exceptions and one major exception. The major exception relates to “personal friends.” The exception for personal friends is nebulous. Moreover, who do politicians have as friends? CEOs? Union leaders? Why should a sitting politician be able to take a material gift from anyone outside his or her family? Perform this mental test – when was the last time somebody from outside your family gave you a gift worth more than $1,000? For most people that never happens but apparently this happens a lot to our politicians. I wonder why “friends” give politicians lavish gifts?
There’s a little something in this envelope for you. Two years ago, long after the McDonnell affair, the Virginian-Pilot published an article entitled, “Lawmakers live large on campaign cash, the Virginia Way.” One would assume that the money donated by fun groups like Dominion Resources and Omega Protein as campaign contributions would be used to pay campaign expenses. In the Commonwealth of Corruption that would be a very bad assumption. Here’s what the Virginian-Pilot has to say about one of our upstanding legislators:
“An Associated Press review of the state’s finance system turned up examples like Chesapeake Democrat Del. Lionell Spruill, who hasn’t faced an opponent in two decades.
Since 2011, Spruill has spent $300,000 from his campaign account on numerous luxuries: a membership in a private business club, meals at Ruth’s Chris steakhouses around the country, and more than $2,000 at high-end Richmond restaurants during legislative sessions. More than 90 percent of the money Spruill raised came from corporations, trade organizations or special interest groups.
Spruill, who has not listed an outside income in years, declined to comment.”
The Associated Press analysis went on to note:
“Behavior that would get lawmakers locked up in other states or at the federal level is perfectly fine in the Old Dominion. Virginia is the only state where lawmakers can raise unlimited campaign donations from anyone, including corporations and unions, and spend the money on themselves.”
“A handful of lawmakers, including senior members in both parties, rely almost entirely on business interests and their representatives for campaign contributions. For instance, GOP Senate President Pro Tem Steve Newman has raised more than $360,000 since 2012; 99 percent of that money came from corporations, trade groups, lobbying firms or special interest groups.”
“The current system has little accountability. Lawmakers must disclose their spending but are free to do so in the vaguest details. Some lawmakers reimburse themselves thousands of dollars from their campaigns with only scant explanation, like “travel reimbursement.” Further, Virginia’s State Board of Elections does not audit or investigate campaign finance reports. Elected prosecutors can investigate campaign finance violations, but longtime political watchers could not recall a case ever being brought.”
The Virginia Way. Even those who hold our General Assembly in the lowest possible regard must find this shocking. Despite a national embarrassment over Governor Rolex’s activities four years ago the clowns in The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond (a wholly owned subsidy of Dominion Resources and Omega Protein) can solicit hundreds of thousands of dollars in “campaign contributions” which are not needed for campaigns and spend that money on pretty much anything with absolute impunity. Virginia, the most corrupt state in America.