Category Archives: Money in politics

Remembering Tim Kaine’s Caribbean Vacation

by D.R. Rippert

Rolexes in Paradise. Ask most people about former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and the first thing you’re likely to hear is, “You mean Governor Rolex?” or some other reference to his trial and conviction on bribery charges. The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction doesn’t matter. McDonnell’s once promising political career was left in ruins by the Obama Administration’s DoJ and a conflicted trial judge who erroneously instructed the jury on the definition of “official acts.” In McDonnell v. the United States the U.S. Supreme Court rules that “official acts” within the context of federal bribery statutes do not include such things as merely setting up meetings, calling another public official or hosting an event. The U.S. Supreme Court never ruled as to whether an “official act” would be the appointment of a gift donor to a prestigious state position because McDonnell never did that. Governor Tim Kaine, however, did.

The Virginia Way. First things first, the Old Dominion has mastered the art of legalized corruption. Politicians can pocket extravagant gifts from favor seekers, campaign contributions are unlimited and can be spent on virtually anything, the list goes on. So it was certainly legal for former Governor Kaine to accept  $160,000 worth of gifts during his single four year term. He took $5,500 in free clothes from a now bankrupt menswear company. A global pharmaceuticals company paid $12,000 for him to attend a meeting in Aspen. He even got over $45,000 in travel and lodging from Obama for America to help campaign for Obama while still pretending to be Virginia’s Governor. However, there was one gift in particular that should have landed him in the same hot water as McDonnell … a Caribbean vacation on a private island.

Warm your bones in the Sun, Tim my boy. After a long campaign Tim Kaine won the governorship in 2005 and was looking for a bit of a rest before assuming office. He didn’t have to look far. One of Kaine’s benefactors, Charlottesville tech investor James B Murray Jr, had just the solution – his home on the private island of Mustique. Mustique is owned by a company that, in turn, is owned by the home owners of Mustique. Frequented by Princess Margaret, Tommy Hilfiger, Mick Jagger and David Bowie Mustique was the perfect getaway for the Kaine family. And best of all, it wasn’t going to cost them anything to stay there. Off they went.

Tim has an appointment to keep, err … make. So far this story about former Governor Kaine is pretty tame by Virginia standards. Kaine won the election, the world is his oyster, gift givers are lining up to bless the “king” with tokens of their endearment and affection. Business as usual in America’s most corrupt state. But on April 10, 2006 in one of his first acts as governor Tim Kaine decides to re-appoint James B Murray Jr (of Mustique fame) to the Board of the Virginia Commission on Higher Education. This commission reviews potential appointees to the governing bodies of Virginia’s public higher education institutions. One can only imagine how socially popular these commissioners must be among the hoi palloi of Virginia’s horsey set as they vie for a seat on this or that board of visitors. Today, James B Murray Jr is the Vice Rector of the University of Virginia and helpfully told the Cavalier Daily, “It might be desirable if the process were entirely apolitical, but it is highly politicized and always has been.” My translation? Send the Kaine family on a nice vacay and you get appointed to play kingmaker.

Militarizing the DoJ. Nobody accused Gov Bob McDonnell of appointing donor Jonnie Williams to anything. What he was accused of doing was unanimously rejected as an “official act” in the context of federal bribery statutes by the U.S. Supreme Court. Gov Kaine took a lovely gift and then quickly re-appointed the gift-giver to a prestigious state board. Isn’t that more of an “official act” than anything McDonnell did? So, why the disparate treatment? The answer has become increasingly clear in recent months as the Obama Administration’s use of various federal agencies for partisan political purposes has come to light. The IRS, The DoJ, The FBI, even the FISA Court – all tools of political persecution in hands of an unscrupulous president. Did anybody do anything illegal? Maybe, maybe not. But does it seem right that one governor has his political career destroyed for seemingly less of an offense than the prior governor / U.S. Senator /  Vice Presidential candidate committed? Let’s hope somebody asks Tim Kaine that question as the U.S. Senate race unfolds.

Their Money is Bad and Our Money is Righteous

Money In Politics

During the 2018 session I received a curious meeting invitation, hush-hush, from somebody who indicated a possible alliance in the struggle against the pending utility legislation. We had to meet away from the Pocahontas Building to avoid observers.  My curiosity led me to take the meeting, and it turned out to be about the Clean Virginia effort which sparked a Washington Post story Friday.

As the person described back in the winter how they were planning to fight Dominion’s political clout by asking legislators to take a pledge against Dominion money, and in exchange replace those dollars with their own funds, my reaction was immediate: What is the difference? Aren’t you also assuming that all legislators care about is who gives them money? Aren’t you also trying to buy votes?

That was the counter attack to expect, and I wanted nothing to do with it. It would be detrimental to our efforts. I predicted it would blow up. It was a short meeting and forgotten until reading Blue Virginia Sunday reacting to the Post. (I cannot remember if the Feb. 8 Times-Dispatch story about this was before or after I had that meeting, but at that point the group had not begun its pitch.)

Emailing a cash donation offer to 140 publicly-funded legislative inboxes – as Clean Virginia apparently did recently — was an intentional invitation to media attention. They had to expect a story. The assertion by Blue Virginia that the new Post story was a Dominion-inspired hit piece (“fed to the stenographers”?) is just more evidence that for far too many clueless activists these days (all sides), the end justifies any means and anyone who questions the means is an enemy.

The pitch came across as a quid pro quo because that is what it is. “Don’t take Dominion’s money and we will replace it” is pure “that for this.” It was the story I had predicted 90 days ago. A less sympathetic newspaper would have written a much tougher story. More coverage may yet follow. They have done Dominion a major favor.

I try not to argue with smart lawyers (Clean Virginia claims to have them) but every one of them who has ever advised me said do not, ever, not even indirectly, not in writing or just with a wink or nod, promise financial support in exchange for any action by a legislator. Likewise do not link financial support to any specific action after the fact.

As previously noted by me three weeks ago, the 2018 energy omnibus was all about political clout and huge campaign contributions, but it was the eventual alliance between Dominion Energy and the big environmental groups that pushed the final anti-consumer product onto the desk of a governor who had received unprecedented financial support from environmental groups plus the usual attentions from Dominion.

Nobody gives millions of dollars to politicians without expecting a return, not Dominion, not the League of Conservation Voters and not Clean Virginia if it gets into that big league. Everybody believes the return they are expecting is the right thing for Virginia. The conversation in Virginia about contribution limits should start now.

Behavior Has Changed But Within Limits

Gifts per legislator. Source: Virginia Public Access Project

There are plenty of complaints these days that the legislative process is unduly influenced by money, but when the spotlight shines or a major scandal erupts, behavior can change. For example, Virginia legislators simply do not want to report that they have received gifts or attended lobbyist dinners, on public records which are available to their voters, the media and potential opponents.

How few actually do show up on 2018 reports is well-illustrated in the graphic above recently posted on the Virginia Public Access Project (click here for interactive features). Readers of Bacon’s Rebellion are probably already following VPAP as well, but if not this is worth a look.

Except for one very popular event, the annual Agribusiness Council Dinner, 91 of Virginia’s 140 legislators would have reported no gifts or meals at all. In many rural districts the political cost of skipping the Ag Dinner and not being seen by constituents attending would also be high. Yet 64 legislators missed that one, too, and avoided having to explain that $69.48 repast.

Several legislative offices have signs out front expressing a policy against accepting any gifts, even innocuous gifts such as a ball point pen or a box of candy or a calendar. That is growing but is not universal. It is the aversion to reporting gifts or entertainment that is becoming more widespread.

That report makes one think the place has really changed since the Bob McDonnell case, right? Not so fast. First note the data covers the period of the regular General Assembly session, from January 1 to Sine Die in March, not the whole year. As you can see with the full 2017 data here the totals tend to grow through the year, especially with paid trips to summer conferences. But there is no dispute that the number and value of reported gifts and meals is shrinking. For example look at the same report for 2012.

Second, remember that gifts or entertainment expenses of $50 or less do not trigger a reporting requirement. Lobbyists or organizations are keeping a closer eye on the cost of items, but $50 can still pay for some very nice gifts or meals.

Does it at least mean the days of the big restaurant dinners are over? Oh my no – and here is how they do it. It can be tracked on VPAP as well but it takes research. The $50 reporting trigger is interpreted to mean $50 per person per lobbying principal (client) paying the bill. If two clients for the same firm split the tab the trigger is $100 per person, and if three – well, you get the drift.

To confirm this is still the practice I easily found an example, but will not provide the details because I did not reach out to the major lobbying firm involved. I noted that one client reported a dinner on January 25, 2017 with 12 persons and a bill of $149 – well below the cost that would require naming the legislators. But by clicking down its full client list I found four more clients reporting a dinner for 12 at $149 on the same date.

Assuming the firm didn’t host five different dinners that night, the real bill was $745 for 12 people, or $62 per person.  That’s hardly lavish, but the intent to disclose the names of attendees has apparently been thwarted. They could stay on the list of those with no reportable gifts for 2017.

As VPAP helpfully explains: “Disclosure forms do not require clients to state clearly the average cost per person. Calculating the average cost per person may not be as simple as dividing the total cost by the number of people attending. Because the forms and instructions are unclear, the amount listed can represent either the total cost of the event, the amount spent on only the officials who attended or the average cost per person.”

It is silly and arbitrary to assume that somebody who accepts a $51 dinner has been compromised while somebody who skips dessert or drinks and spends $40 has not. Frankly neither has been compromised in my book. The real purpose of these dinners is to get the undivided attention of the legislators for a while – admittedly an advantage for that lobbyist and an edge on the competition. That is reason enough they should be fully reported.

If the costs of a dinner can be shared among multiple clients then the costs of other forms of entertainment or gifts could also be divided, seeking to keep the cost below $50 per client per recipient and keeping the recipient(s) off reports. I have not scoured the records to see if that happens, but nobody should have to.  The General Assembly needs to end this particular game.

Money Always Finds a Way

Every right-thinking person in America is concerned, if not downright appalled, by the role of money in politics. Citizens want their legislators to base their lawmaking decision on the merits of the case, not how much money corporations and special interest groups are shoveling into their campaign coffers. Some states deal with the problem by putting caps on campaign donations. Here in Virginia, there are no such limits in campaigns for state office, but the Commonwealth does require full transparency. Go to the Virginia Public Access Project to find out who’s donating money — and presumably has the ear of — your elected representatives.

But the debate over money in politics rages unabated. Not without some queasiness, I hew to the view that Virginia does it right. I could cite reasons of lofty principle, such as the argument that campaign contributions constitute a form of free speech that should not be abridged. And I could cite reasons of base practicality: Restrictions on campaign contributions will just drive influence seeking into the shadows where it cannot be tracked.

Now comes research by four economists (lead author Marianne Bertrand with the University of Chicago), “Tax-Exempt Lobbying: Corporate Philanthropy as a Tool for Political Influence,” which illuminates a surprisingly common means of subterranean influence — corporate philanthropy.

The authors examined where philanthropic foundations of Fortune 500 and S&P 500 corporations donated their money. Lo and behold, a significant percentage went to charities in the districts of congresspersons sitting on committees that oversee the industries of the donating firms.

Our analysis suggests that firms deploy their charitable foundations as a form of tax-exempt influence seeking. Based on a straightforward model of political influence our estimates imply that 7.1 percent of total U.S. corporate charitable giving is politically motivated, an amount that is economically significant: it is 280 percent larger than annual PAC contributions and about 40 percent of total federal lobbying expenditures. … Charitable giving may be a form of political influence that goes mostly undetected by voters and shareholders, and which is directly subsidized by taxpayers.

It would be naive to think that corporations are the only players in the philanthropy-for-influence game. Corporate motives might be easier to discern, but individual philanthropists often back causes and crusades of an ideological nature — the environment, social justice, free markets — that intersect with political controversies. Are billionaires and centi-millionaires any less likely than corporations to curry favor with elected officials than corporate executives?

Bertrand et al. posit a mechanism by which charitable contributions translate into influence.

To understand how charitable contributions directed to a congressional district may serve as a channel of political influence, one can build on the notion of credit-claiming by self-motivated politicians, an idea in political economy and political science that dates back at least to Mayhew’s observation that “Credit claiming is highly important to congressmen, with the consequence that much of congressional life is a relentless search for opportunities to engage in it.”

Although it is typically discussed in the context of federal grants and earmarks, political credit-claiming of local charities is a natural means of appealing to voters, given the visibility of many charities to politicians’ constituencies.

As a concrete example, the authors point to Washington Senator Patricia Murray, whose official webpage describes her work on housing, stating, “I was proud to establish the Washington State Farmworkers Housing Trust to help families who work hard to keep one of our state’s most important industries strong.” The charity’s donors include the foundations of JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo. (The authors would have made a stronger case if Murray served on a committee regulating the banking or housing industries, but it doesn’t appear that she does.)

There’s an old saying that water seeks its own level. So does money in politics. We live in a political system that intrudes into every corner of the economy. No business activity is beyond the reach of taxation and regulation. As long as politicians have the power to reward and punish, businesses will have an incentive to influence the political process. If they don’t do it one way, they will do it another. As we’ve seen vividly with the machinations of the Clinton Foundation, politicians and corporations are infinitely ingenious in finding ways to trade in influence. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for a speech? Outrageous. But what’s the solution? Prohibit former presidents from being paid to give speeches?

The question for citizens is this: Would we rather they conduct their influence peddling out in the open where we can see it, dissect it, and denounce it? Or would we rather have it go underground?

A Shocking Case of Lawful Behavior

by Stephen D. Haner

Sometimes the problem is fake news and sometimes the problem is non-news, and in a shocking non-news story it was revealed that (gasp) politicians are raising money. Just as they have for every year I can remember, General Assembly incumbents are filling mail and email inboxes with invitations to their usual spring and summer lobbyist shake-down events.

But you have to understand, these are Senate Republicans doing this, the very same Republicans who have not acted yet on a delayed state budget! They are now in a special session. Acting in total and clear compliance with state law, and conducting themselves in complete conformity with previous patterns of behavior…..wait, why is this news? Are not Democrats also holding fundraising events? Actually they are, while the story was light on those details.

Perhaps you think it okay for members of the House of Delegates – in both parties — to hold their standard spring events. Do you think they have done their duty by passing out another version of their budget, so they get no special scrutiny as they dun the lobbying corps and the various corporate donors? They also are in special session, if that is what offends.

Granted, very few Senate Democrats are as aggressively raising funds. They have always been less aggressive about raising funds. It is one reason they are, in case you missed it, not in the majority.

I am not going to defend the Senate GOP delay on starting the second budget conference. But the issues that caused the hang up are legitimate and sadly we are all getting used to this unfortunate game of budget chicken. It may lead to laws that prevent fundraising during special sessions as well as regular sessions, but those prohibitions are mainly for show. If money can affect their decisions in January, it works just as well in June.

Lies, Damn Lies, and CNN Statistics

So, I listened this weekend to some of the speeches in the “March for Our Lives” protest against guns, and heard a lot of criticism of the National Rifle Association for buying votes through its enormous campaign contributions. Then I saw this article published on the CNN website that purports to explain why the NRA holds so much sway in Congress. States CNN:

While large industries such as defense, health care and finance give more to federal candidates, so-called “single-issue” groups have always been a bit different. For them, it’s not necessarily as much about outspending and outflanking other industry powers as it is how they compare with the other side — those advocating the opposite position.

By that measure, the NRA and its allies aren’t just winning, they’ve been dominating for years.

In the 2018 election cycle so far, gun rights groups, including the NRA, have outspent the competition more than 40 to 1.

Gun rights groups have made nearly $600,000 in direct contributions and independent expenditures on behalf of congressional candidates, the data shows. Gun control groups? Barely $14,000.

Graphic credit: CNN

I don’t have a (hunting) dog in this fight. I don’t own a handgun; indeed, I have never shot a gun but once in my life. I don’t have a problem with enacting measures to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals, crazy people and wife beaters. On the other hand, if I felt the need to defend myself, I’d want to make sure that my right to purchase a Dirty Harry-worthy .44 Magnum wasn’t infringed in any way. Call me a middle-of-the-roader on this issue.

So, when I heard the refrain that the “gun lobby” spreads around far more money than gun control advocates do, I had no reason not to believe it. What else would explain their political power?

Then I came across this article published by Radio IQ. Virginia public radio is hardly part of the NRA fan club. But, drawing upon data from the Virginia Public Access Project, Radio IQ drew a radically different conclusion regarding money in Virginia politics.

During last year’s state election, gun rights groups and firearms dealers gave more than $160,000 in campaign contributions. That’s according to an analysis from the Virginia Public Access Project. It’s a good chunk of change, and it was directed largely at members of the General Assembly who sit on committees that routinely stop gun control legislation. But groups that advocate for gun control donated more than $2.4 million, mostly to statewide candidates.

“One of the myths of politics is the idea that NRA money is decisive,” according to Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington. He says the real power of the NRA is not the campaign contributions. It’s the activists who show up at rallies and contact lawmakers and are, essentially, single-issue voters.

(Last year wasn’t a fluke, by the way. VPAP records show that gun control advocates have outspent gun rights advocates in Virginia political races since 1996-97 by $8.1 million to $1.3 million.)

Quoting national statistics, CNN says the NRA outspends opponents 40 to 1. Quoting state statistics, Radio IQ says opponents outspend the NRA by 15 to 1. That’s quite a discrepancy.

I consulted the OpenSecrets.org database to see if I could explain the diametrically opposed results. For the 2017-2018 election cycle, OpenSecrets says that gun rights groups contributed $808,000 to federal candidates, parties, and outside groups, while gun control groups contributed a mere $152,000. That’s a spending gap, but closer to 5 to 1 than 40 to 1.

Delving a bit deeper, we see that the Giffords PAC, named after shooting victim Congressman Gabbie Giffords, was the only major contributor listed for the gun control groups. It turns out that the big gun-control groups — Everytown for Gun Safety, the Giffords PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence — contributed heavily to Virginia state races — primarily  Governor Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring, and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. I would conjecture that the same groups have spent heavily in other state groups as part of a strategy of influencing state elections rather than federal elections.

In other words, CNN told only part of the story. Its article focused on federal elections exclusively, ignoring the vast sums poured into Virginia and possibly other state elections. I don’t know if CNN was consciously manipulating the truth, or if it was just incredibly sloppy. But I do know this: Far from being “the most trusted name in news,” CNN is rapidly establishing itself as the least trusted name in news.

Another Lesson in Virginia Political Corruption

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.

Insufferable Self-Righteousness

Michael Bills, a former Goldman Sachs executive and chief investment officer of the University of Virginia, is so outraged by what he calls the “legalized corruption” of Dominion Energy’s outsized campaign contributions that he says he’ll donate thousands of dollars to legislators who pledge not to accept money from the power company and to divest any personal investments in the company.

The Clean Virginia Project will offer $5,000 per election cycle to participating delegates and $20,000 per cycle to senators, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Democrats and Republicans should represent their constituents and not powerful corporate interests, and Clean Virginia will be holding them accountable if they don’t,” Bills said in a prepared statement.

That’s really rich coming from a guy who made $1,344,500 in Virginia political contributions in 2017 — compared to $913,646 for Dominion.

Puh-leeease. If Bills and his buddies in the Charlottesville gentry want to criticize the legislation working its way through the General Assembly, I’m fine with that. There are a lot of pros and cons to most recent version of the bill that would rewrite the process for regulating electric utilities in Virginia. Does it lock in utility profits at an unacceptably high level? Does it undermine the State Corporation Commission’s powers of regulatory oversight? What form should electric grid modernization take? Those are all legitimate questions that would benefit from a robust public discourse.

But when it comes to criticizing Dominion for contribution to political campaigns, Bills sounds like the pot calling the kettle black. Spare me the insufferable self-righteousness.

When “Dominion” makes political contributions, the money isn’t coming from rate payers or even shareholders. The money is collected from Dominion executives and employees. If I understand the mechanics correctly, the Dominion political action committee aggregates the donations of individual employees, some of whom are wealthy executives and some of whom are every-day employees. Somehow, we’re expected to believe that Bills’ donating more than a million dollars from his massive personal wealth is less “corrupt” than hundreds of Dominion employees pooling their smaller donations.

Last year, Bills donated $416,000 to the Northam for Governor campaign. Dominion donated $50,000 — which it offset by donating $55,000 to the Gillespie campaign. If money corrupts the political process, one would think that Bills sank his talons far deeper into Northam than Dominion did. Yet Northam helped work out the legislative compromise with Dominion that Bills’ friends at the Clean Virginia Project find so objectionable. What happened? Is Bills upset that he bought Northam but he didn’t stay bought?

Clearly, money talks. If it didn’t, special interests wouldn’t dole out so much of it. But it’s not so clear that money buys much more than access — the right to be heard– as opposed to a politician’s undying fealty.

The irony is that in the past year or two, Charlottesville’s landed gentry has emerged as a much bigger source of political contributions than Dominion could dream of becoming. Just look at all the money donated to left-wing populist Tom Perriello last year. At least the Dominion PAC represents the interests of thousands of employees around the state. Who does Bills represent other than himself?

Bacon Bits: Campaign Contributions, Bronze Parachutes, and Bus Subsidies

Herewith some follow-ups on stories we’ve been tracking on Bacon’s Rebellion:

Election fallout for electric utilities: Tuesday’s election wasn’t just a rout for Republicans. The General Assembly will be a more hostile place for Virginia’s electric utilities as well. As Robert Zullo with the Richmond Times-Dispatch points out: “Thirteen candidates who signed a pledge refusing to accept campaign cash from Virginia’s two big utilities won seats in the House of Delegates Tuesday. Seven of those support prohibiting Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power from making political donations.”

Bronze parachute for Virginia Tech provost. Former Virginia Tech Provost Thanassis Rikakis, whose resignation was announced last month, is on paid administrative leave through the end of the year and will continue to receive his $414,000 salary through Aug. 10, 2018. Rikakis, who riled up faculty for reasons that still remain obscure to me, apparently will be allowed to take on a new job as a direct report to President Timothy Sands, earning a mere $275,000 a year as “presidential fellow for academic innovation.” The Roanoke Times reports that he will continue to work on initiatives he had launched as provost, such as “Beyond Boundaries, Destination Areas, the PIBB budget model, the Honors College and the Health Science and Technology campus concepts.”

The bus route to nowhere? The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) is subsidizing a Megabus bus service between Blacksburg and Washington, D.C., with stops in Christiansburg, Lexington, Staunton, Harrisonburg, Front Royal, Washington Dulles International Airport and Arlington. Riders boarding in Blacksburg for the full ride will pay $50. According to a 2013 study, reports the Roanoke Times, the route could generate 15,550 riders per year, generate $578,000 in revenue, and run a $417,000 deficit. Virginia receive about $15 million a year in federal funding for rural transportation projects, and is required to set aside $2.3 million for intercity bus service.

“The Virginia Breeze improves mobility choices for underserved communities by offering an alternative to driving along the congested Interstate 81 and 66 corridors, which need travel options,” DRPT Director Jennifer Mitchell said. “Intercity bus travel gets people out of cars and where they want to go affordably, comfortably and reliably.”

Roanoke, Shenandoah Valley, Southwest, and the 23229 Zip Code Keeping Gillespie in the Race

Graphic credit: Virginia Public Access Project

According to Virginia Public Access Project data, Democratic candidate for governor Ralph Northam has raised 50% more money than Republican Ed Gillespie — and almost 30 times more than Libertarian Cliff Hyra. The map above shows the distribution of in-state dollars by region. (Drill down by region and you can see the contribution count broken down by zip code.) The in-state contributions are a better reflection of Virginia voter sentiment than money totals that include out-of-state dough.

As is readily visible from the map, the east-west divide is pronounced. The Roanoke region, Southwest Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley lean to Gillespie. The rest of the state leans to Northam. Look at the data by zip code, though, and the picture is less uniform. Here’s a map of the Richmond region.

I was surprised to see how dominant Northam is in the Richmond region, which has a reputation — decreasingly deserved with each election — of leaning Republican and conservative. But the map is somewhat deceptive. I checked out my zip code, 23229 (seen in the yellow circle), in western Henrico County. Not only is 23229 one of the biggest-donating zips in the state, it leans to Gillespie by a nine-to-one margin.

Inhabitants of my zip chipped in $1,260,000 to the Gillespie campaign, versus $125,000 for Northam. That’s one-quarter of Gillespie’s entire in-state campaign take — and more than that vast swath of red west of the Blue Ridge. Remarkably, as far as I know, Gillespie has never visited the district (unless he appeared at discrete fund-raisers in private homes). He’d be well advised to come and shake that money tree as hard as he can.

Update: And how many votes will these campaign expenditures buy? Well, it depends on how much the campaigns devote to advertising. And the effect of advertising is just about zero. Literally, zero. From am upcoming publication in the American Political Science Review by Joshua L. Kalla and David E. Broockman. “We argue that the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero. … A systematic meta-analysis of 40 field experiments estimates an average effect of zero in general elections.”