Cuccinelli and George Washington at Republican Women's Conference June 2009
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.)
HB125 sponsored by Delegate Bob Purkey: 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.
My request for the seemingly simple definition started as far back as April in an e-mail to Brian Gottstein, Cuccinelli’s director of communications. He replied at the time saying, “it wasn’t ready yet” and to check back at the end of June. This I did making it clearly a FOIA request on June 25.
The overworked director of communications (needs no explanation) for Cuccinelli responded: “The attorney told me that they have drafted but not completed the written explanatory statement. Several people are looking it over, and it does not need to be prepared by July 1, when the law takes effect.” <head scratching here and wondering if this was a common practice>
Then the definition was labeled “working papers” for awhile after that. As I became more insistent Gottstein provided this explanation:
Please allow me to clarify what HB 125 does and does not do. HB 125 merely directs the State Board of Elections (with assistance from the attorney general) to provide an explanation of the existing law to candidates. HB 125 does not change the law to bar the personal use of campaign funds.
Currently, Virginia campaign finance law does not bar the personal use of campaign funds by a candidate or office holder with an ongoing campaign committee. The only provision in existing state law on this topic is found at 24.2-948.4(D), and that section only addresses the requirements for the filing of the FINAL campaign finance report (when a candidate or officeholder is not running again and is closing down the campaign committee). Thus, the prohibition in that section on converting contributed monies, etc., to personal use only applies to the excess campaign funds when the candidate is shutting down the campaign committee. It does not apply to the use of campaign funds during the life of the campaign committee. The attorney general’s explanation per HB 125 will not change that circumstance. Only the General Assembly can change the law to prohibit the personal use of campaign funds for ongoing campaign committees, and to-date, the General Assembly has not done so.
Virginia is a disclosure state in terms of campaign finance rules. As long as all amounts collected and expended are reported on the required disclosure forms, there is no statutory provision enacted by the General Assembly that prohibits the personal use of campaign funds by the candidate other than that stated above.
How hard would it be to apply these same rules to legislators while IN office? No legislator on either side of the aisle wants to be “nick picked” on their expenditures. That is what senators, legislators and even a constitutional officer has told me. They all cringed at the thought of being held accountable for using YOUR donation for the purpose of getting elected or expenses in communicating with constituents.
Virginians should be outraged with the state’s lack of legislation to reign in the pocketing of campaign funds while IN office. If a legislator anticipates retiring from office all they have to do is spend, spend, spend their account down to nothing before filing a final report.
How many attorneys general does it take to write a paragraph anyway? What else could Cuccinelli be doing? There are no lawsuits he has to attend to … oops!
Well he’s not a “general” in a sense that he is forming an army of surrogates or campaign coordinators for battle … oops!
Removing “for dummies” from the campaign finance topic because I’ve never felt so dumb or disgusted with Virginia’s campaign finance laws or rather lack thereof.
We are all dumb because campaign finance disclosure itself is a scam. No one checks out any of these reports. Say Delegate Simple Simon gave $1000 to the Kumbayah charitable trust – that’s fine – no problem in Virginia.
CLICK HERE FOR THE ENTIRE DEFINITION DOCUMENT SENT TO THE STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS.
WRITTEN EXPLANATION BY THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
The General Assembly has clearly prohibited the personal use of campaign contributions by candidates, but only in the context of the filing of the required final campaign finance report.
The permitted uses of campaign funds are found in § 24.2-945.1(A), where the General Assembly defines the term “expenditure” to mean money and services of any amount, and any other thing of value, paid, loaned, provided, or in any other way disbursed by any candidate, campaign committee, political committee, or person for the purpose of expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate. The candidate or his treasurer must keep detailed and accurate accounts of all expenditures, and report every contribution and expenditure on the candidate campaign finance disclosure form.
Delegate Onzlee Ware (D-11) is in the clear to spend, spend as he pleases. His excuse he says is to garner support for a statewide run for office. Is he running in North Carolina?
Part II: Campaign finance – Examining Delegate Ware’s finance report
Posted By Valerie Garner
Categories: Finance, Politics, State Politics
Tags: attorney_general, corruption, cuccinelli, legislators, Onzlee_Ware