Sunday, September 26, 2010

Part III: Campaign finance –The rules if you can find them

A long overdue epiphany – state campaign laws are enacted by the same legislators the laws are suppose to govern. Leaving loopholes and making life “easier” for themselves is the General Assembly’s answer to “accountability.”

Not for lack of trying by some – See September 17 Virginia Statehouse News (Delegate Jim Scott D-Fairfax) who has tried to give the Virginia State Board of Elections auditing power. Also see the opinion piece in The Washington Post on September 16.

DELEGATE HARRY “BOB” PURKEY a Virginia Beach Republican had an interesting story to tell in a phone call last month. I called for clarification of HB125 that passed both houses unanimously last session. The effective date was July 1.

The story goes like this:

Several years ago Purkey was perusing the campaign finance reports when he discover an anomaly. The state board of elections had pulled up years of campaign reports and “people would raise a lot of money from the public and keep it,” said Purkey.

Delegate Purkey sponsored HB241. “It says you cannot convert to personal use money that you have collected from the public for the purpose of running a campaign,” he explained.

You can give it back to the people that gave it to you, give it to charity or give it to a political action committee but you can’t keep it yourself. It was happening at the state level and the national level. Money was being raised for political campaigns and “frankly people were keeping the money, paying taxes on it considering it as income,” said Purkey.

Purkey said though he made a mistake – “I said you cannot convert to personal use [but] I had not obtained an opinion from the Attorney General on personal use.”

After HB241 passed it was being interpreted in different ways. Purkey then sought a legal definition for “personal use.”

I asked Del. Purkey to clarify that it was just related to a final report. A final report is filed when an official leaves office or a candidate loses an election. The remnants of campaign donations can’t be pocketed. Purkey’s answer was “no” then he continued – “the bill makes people realize that you could not for instance put a wife on your payroll, son or daughter on your payroll, a family member on your payroll – pay them out of your campaign account and claim that to be personal use.” <a bit murky explanation. >

Purkey’s HB125 summarized: So the genesis of the HB125 was to cleanup the language in HB241 that had passed earlier. The Attorney General gave us an opinion on [personal use] and HB125 as it passed defines personal use to make certain that people now know that going forward that indeed personal use includes the Attorney General’s opinion. <OK?>

“Some interpretive members of the body unfortunately decided that personal use had a wider range of meaning then it was intended to have. The original bill was meant to stop situations where campaign accounts would collect large sums of money and not have an election and then the money would disappear,” he said.

“Frankly, I didn’t think I had to have it defined and [that] creative people would stretch personal use to find a way to use it to satisfy their needs. There will be no doubt going forward to anyone of what personal use means,” concluded Purkey.

HB125 signed by the governor April 8,2010:  The Board shall provide, with the summary required by this section, to each candidate, person, or committee on request or upon their first filing with the State Board pursuant to this chapter, whichever occurs first, a copy of a written explanation prepared by the Attorney General of the provisions of the Act that prohibit the personal use of campaign funds. The explanation shall cover the provisions that prohibit the personal use of campaign funds and shall delineate the differences between prohibited personal uses of campaign funds and permitted uses of the funds.

Still waiting on the Attorney General’s Office for definition – to be continued.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Finance, Politics, State Politics

Tags: , ,

Comments (1)

[…] It has been six months since Governor Bob McDonnell signed HB125 and almost three months since it went into effect on July 1. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office finally provided the Virginia State Board of Elections with the definition of “personal use” of campaign funds Wednesday. That’s the good news. The bad news – it applies only to the “final report” though nowhere in the bill that was passed does it say that. Delegate Bob Purkey talked all around his intent in a phone call (see Part III.) […]

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