Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Virginian-Pilot recognizes Virginia’s campaign expenditure loophole

Web Campaign_DonationsIn an October 20 editorial, “Campaign accounts could get personal” The Virginian-Pilot implied that a “loophole in law gives politicians free rein with campaign donations.” Click here for the full editorial.

As reported by the Roanoke Free Press a citizen complaint alleged that Delegate Onzlee Ware used his campaign funds for personal use. Mark Powell had inadvertently exposed a campaign expenditure loophole.

As the State Board of Elections and The Virginian-Pilot points out – only upon retiring or losing a re-election bid does the Code of Virginia prevent pocketing campaign funds. You can give it to another official, candidate or charity; none of which can be a family member. There are no restrictions on use of campaign funds while in office.

“The issue popped up this spring when state officials received a complaint that a Roanoke delegate was making improper expenditures and failing to report them. Democrat Onzlee Ware has since filed amended reports indicating that the money in question went to gas, meals, car rentals and his primary victory party.

But even if Ware had used the money to buy a fennel farm, which he didn’t, there’s little state officials could have done about it.” – The Virginian-Pilot/

The Virginia State Board of Elections concluded on October 9 with advice from Senior States Attorney, James Hopper that:

The law has to be taken as a whole, not by parts. When reading § 24.2-948.4 as a whole, 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.

On an unrelated topic in an October 20 phone call Ms Nancy Rodrigues, SBE Secretary said that the General Assembly had just this year incorporated the “final report” restrictions in the Code of Virginia. Delegate Harry Purkey (R-82) introduced HB 1740; it passed both the General Assembly and Senate unanimously and was approved by the Governor on March 27, 2009.

Delegate Purkey should bravely take HB 1740 one step further and introduce a similar bill that applies to a legislator’s use of campaign funds during their full tenure in the legislature.

“The Ware affair is over. The board ended its investigation this month. But the loophole lives on, raising new and worrisome questions about how it might resurface in other corners of Virginia.

Del. Phil Hamilton in Newport News, for example, is facing a state ethics inquiry and a federal grand jury investigation.

The Virginian-Pilot asks, “Can he lawyer up using money from his account? Apparently, the answer is yes.”

State legislators have a vested interest in keeping campaign finance laws as threadbare as possible, but this loophole could cause them all embarrassment. Indeed, that could happen before they can get back to Richmond and fix the problem.” –  The Virginian-Pilot/

By permission of The Virginian-Pilot/

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Finance, Politics, State Politics

Tags: , , , ,

Comments (2)

John Reddish

October 31st, 2009 at 4:58 PM    

Campaign financing and expenditures have long been a murky business. There are campaign finance laws but few are either comprehensive or consistently enforced. Campaigns and donors look to skirt restrictions, or avoid compliance. Perhaps, and this is where a free press is precious, a “Sunshine Smell Test” should be applied to political expenditures – they should be public and it they smell bad, as sometimes happens – the voters can decide on a remedy at the ballot box.


October 31st, 2009 at 5:22 PM    

It takes more than one article to expose the smell of “rotten eggs.” Sadly voters don’t know how, don’t care or don’t understand how to look up their representatives campaign fund usage. It’s all there at the SBE or VPAP but few take the time to look. If they look they don’t understand what they are looking at.

This is where the media comes in but again sadly media resources are scarce to scrutinize campaign donations/expenditures.

As we sometimes chat about in #jounchat, John, this is where citizen journalism can fill in the blanks.

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