We don’t need a bill that will do no more than create extra work for an already short-staffed State Board of Elections. What we do need are honest legislators who don’t need laws to tell them “right from wrong.”
Though it is admirable that Delegate Onzlee Ware’s sudden attention to campaign finance is leading him to introduce a bill in the General Assembly that has zero chance of passing.
The bill Ware proposes according to The Roanoke Times article on Saturday:
Ware said he plans to file legislation that would give the state board “more teeth” to enforce campaign finance laws and require greater disclosure by candidates.
“If we’re serious about transparency, if the board and staff want to get into checking every campaign report, my bill will say file the electronic report by the due date, but within the next month or when the bank statement arrives, file a copy of the bank statement as well as all receipts justifying the expenditures and a summary of the reasons the expenditures were made,” Ware said.
According to David Allen, Campaign Finance Manager the State Board of Elections is short of staff and short on tenure. Allen also complains that campaign finance law has so many “gray areas” it makes interpretation extremely difficult. An example of a “gray area” is – what constitutes “personal use” of campaign funds? Ware’s bill won’t fix that nor does the bill request additional SBE staff to handle the volume of work his bill would create.
Considering that Virginia State Police positions are going unfilled adding staff to the State Board of Elections becomes laughable – though with a little political sarcasm one could make a case for “campaign finance” being a matter of “public safety.” I suspect Ware understands this and those advising him to “get out in front” of the board’s review of his campaign expenditures know this.
Allen has repeatedly stated that the SBE has no enforcement power. They can recommend an investigation that would then fall to the locality’s Commonwealth Attorney. In this instance it would be Don Caldwell who would wisely recuse himself considering his public endorsement of Delegate Ware’s reelection. The candidates for Attorney General when asked both admitted to “disclosure” being the tool for voters to evaluate their representative’s use of campaign funds. However an extensive discussion with Senator and candidate Ken Cuccinelli regarding Allen’s complaint of the “gray areas” in campaign finance law led him to say, “that is a point where an attorney general would be consulted.”
Voters have access to the SBE website to peruse their representative’s campaign filings. Allen said disclosure and media scrutiny is the extent of campaign finance oversight. It is left to the individual voter with a computer to know how to navigate and know what to look for once they get there.
It would be enlightening to conduct a poll of registered voters who have visited the SBE website or VPAP, (Virginia Public Access Project) a non profit group that sheds light on how money plays a role in Virginia politics. I fear the results of such a poll would reveal at best a single digit percentage of voters who have taken a peek at their representative’s financial disclosures.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that Ware’s bill is enacted as is – how exactly would the public be able to view the receipts, bank statements, and explanations online? If they were scanned online then how can all these pieces be put together with the original filing that would allow an ordinary citizen to come to a conclusion. Do we need an army of lawyers mulling over legislators’ disclosures at a staggering cost to taxpayers?
What we need are honest legislators who don’t need laws to tell them “right from wrong.” We need legislators whose campaign finance disclosures are above reproach. We need legislators that don’t use “gray areas” as a way to circumvent ethical behavior.
Hank Bostwick of the Star City Harbinger while clamoring for self-importance has served Ware poorly by portraying exposure of his campaign finances as a personal attack on the Delegate. The bigger picture exposes the lack of campaign finance oversight in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Oversight that The Roanoke Times Editorial Board was very clear in explaining.
Related Articles: SBE Postpones Discussion of Del. Onzlee Ware Campaign Finances
Delegate Onzlee Ware Meets Deadline to Amend Campaign Filing
Del. Onzlee Ware Has 10 Days to Respond to the State Board of Elections
Posted By Valerie Garner
Categories: Commentary, Politics
Tags: cuccinelli, Elections, general_assembly, legislators, Onzlee_Ware