Saturday, February 5, 2011

Bill with “teeth” survives Campaign Finance subcommittee

UPDATE 2/4: Just a big tease getting this out of subcommittee. Tabled in Privileges and Elections Committee after passing the subcommittee. Sneaky way of saying “oh, yes we want to be ethical” while secretly kicking it under the table. We can just assume that everyone in the Privileges and Election Committee said “hell no, I’ll spend my campaign money however I want. 

Conservative mantra dominates this political cycle. One sound bite heard often is “less regulation good – more regulation bad.” My eyes are on what legislators’ deem self-regulation when it comes to use of campaign funds. Will they regulate their own ethical behavior?

Delegate Chris Jones of Suffolk introduced a bill that would do just that. HB2098 would:

“… make it unlawful for any person to convert to his personal use, at any time, money and like intangibles that have been contributed to a candidate, campaign committee, or other type of political committee.”

I gave it little chance of getting out of the Campaign Finance subcommittee yesterday. But “Good Golly Miss Molly” it made it out unanimously. There are amendments yet to be revealed but as other bills were tabled or defeated this little gem actually sees the light of day.

Delegate Jim Scott’s HB 1415 did not fare so well. That bill would have established a procedure to review campaign finance reports of candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General. The General Assembly candidates would get random sample reviews. The bill was tabled Wednesday. I can’t say this was much more than a math test. It was not a review of ethical uses of campaign funds.

The more important bill has the potential to close the loophole exposed when a complaint was made to the Virginia State Board of Elections. The complaint accused Roanoke Delegate Onzlee Ware of using his campaign funds for personal use.

After much prodding of the SBE an opinion was sought from James Hopper in the Attorney General’s Office to determine whether there was a Code of Virginia law that addressed the complaint. His opinion revealed there was no such law in the Code of Virginia:

… it is clear that prohibition against converting contributed campaign funds to personal use only applies to the closing of a campaign finance account. Therefore the Board has no statutory authority to refer complaints regarding personal use of campaign funds to any other officials for further investigation unless or until a candidate files a final report under § 24.2-948.4.

You can read the letter in its entirety CLICK HERE:

The departing Electoral Board in Monday’s letter let loose their frustration. It was the first time a departing board has spoken out on its shortcomings. They have no authority – their hands are tied: “The Board has referred complaints to the appropriate authority … without increased statutory authority, the Board will remain a ‘toothless tiger’.”

 Of the six or so bills in the subcommittee HB2098 was the only one to have “teeth.” I’d like to think it was my e-mails to the subcommittee members, comments on Richmond Sunlight and a tweet to subcommittee member Mark Sickles (D-33). I doubt it but it gives you some solace in thinking they take input seriously.

VA State Board of Elections “toothless tiger” issues recommendations

The Virginian-Pilot recognizes Virginia’s campaign expenditure loophole

State Board of Elections takes “no action” on complaint against Delegate Onzlee Ware

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Finance, Politics, State Politics

Tags: , , ,

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