Corruption Allegations Mar Fairfax County Board Race

Supervisor Jeff McKay, photo credit – WAMU

I’m shocked, shocked to find that there’s gambling going on here. Long time residents of Fairfax County will hardly be shocked to hear the news of a Fairfax County Supervisor being accused of unsavory business dealings with a land developer. Jeff McKay has been Lee District supervisor since 2007. He is currently vying for the top spot in Fairfax County – chair of the board. McKay, who faces opposition from three Democrats and one Republican for the office, has been accused of trading a political favor for a personal real-estate deal. As befitting the county which is home to the CIA, those allegations were surfaced through a lengthy anonymous legal memo circulated to the county attorney and the other members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. American University radio station WAMU broke the story yesterday.

To be very clear, these are allegations which may be true, partly true or (as McKay represents) a wholly untrue political attack. Supervisor McKay deserves to be considered innocent until proven otherwise.

 The accusations. Warren Halle is the head of the Halle Companies, a development, construction and property management company. WAMU reports that “The Halle Companies have donated $50,000 to McKay’s current race for board chair.”  While I assume that statement is true I have been unable to verify it through public campaign disclosures. In any event, large donations from developers to Fairfax County politicians are neither unusual nor illegal.

The alleged impropriety centers around a vote cast by McKay for a zoning change involving a Halle project in 2016 followed by the purchase of a house by McKay. The mysterious legal memo alleges that the vote and house purchase were linked, resulting in Halle getting the rezoning it wanted and McKay getting a new personal home below market value. As WAMU reports:

” … McKay’s friend, homebuilder Michael McGhan, purchased two lots elsewhere in the county from a company controlled by Halle. McGhan later built two upscale homes on the land. McKay now lives in one of those homes, McGhan in another across the street.

The memo alleges McGhan handled the land purchase on McKay’s behalf. It further questions whether McKay paid an artificially low price for the property.

The document stops short of concluding that McKay acted illegally, unethically or improperly. Instead, it calls for an official response.”

McKay’s response. McKay denies any impropriety. He acknowledges that McGhan bought the land from Halle. In turn, McGhan set up an LLC and built the home for McKay. However, McKay says he wasn’t involved in the home purchase transaction until a year after the rezoning vote. Unfortunately for McKay, McGhan’s establishment of the LLC and application for a land disturbance permit happened right around the time of the vote. The timing is important. If McKay were involved in this transaction prior to the rezoning vote, he would have been required by Virginia law to report that involvement to the board. McKay says he wasn’t involved in the transaction until well after the rezoning vote. He also claims that the $850,000 he paid for the house is a fair market price.

The mystery memo. WAMU writes:

“The memo was commissioned by an unnamed client and written by attorneys with the firm Nelson Mullins. One of the authors is Solomon Wisenberg, a white-collar defense lawyer who in 1998 questioned President Bill Clinton before a grand jury amid the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Wisenberg declined to disclose his client’s name.

“The name of my client is irrelevant,” he says. “What is relevant are the facts. The facts speak for themselves. The facts demand straight answers from Jeff McKay.”

Commentary. First and foremost, nobody should jump to any conclusions regarding Supervisor McKay. Mr. McKay deserves the benefit of a full and fair investigation. An anonymous memo written and distributed in the heat of a political campaign should give everyone pause.

Putting aside the alleged quid-pro-quo, the question of money in politics continues to plague Virginia. This is especially true when the money in question is a large campaign contribution from a land developer to any supervisor involved in voting on land use decisions. The contemptible attitude of Virginia politicians regarding unlimited campaign contributions from special interests to elected officials undermines the confidence of Virginians in our government and embarrasses the state in the eyes of the nation. Excessive money in Virginia politics is the root of many of our problems from affordable housing to crony capitalist windfalls to traffic chaos. This fall Virginians will have a chance to vote for candidates seeking office across the state. Campaign finance reform should be one of the top issues considered by Virginia voters. In my opinion, those candidates who believe that unlimited campaign contributions from anyone to anyone are acceptable should be dismissed from public office.

Hat tip: Blue Virginia

— Don Rippert.


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16 responses to “Corruption Allegations Mar Fairfax County Board Race

  1. I cannot comment on the controversy due to lack of awareness. However I am curious if the one Repub candidate is final selection by the Repubs, or is that process not yet final?

    • I don’t know for sure but I think Republican Joseph Galdo is the only Repub who has declared. Given that this is in Fairfax County Mr Galdo may be chasing skunks through the woods.

  2. It looks like there’s enough substance to the allegations to warrant looking deeper into the case. And if the real estate transaction did amount to a bribe, then McKay should go to jail. It is dismaying that this kind of activity occurs. Even if it turns out that there was no quid pro quo, McKay should have had enough sense to avoid accepting a gift from someone for whom he had done political favors in the past.

    That said, I’m not sure how you leap from a case of potential bribery — which, if true, is clearly illegal — to the conclusion that campaign contributions should be curtailed. You’re never going to get rid of “money in politics.” People with money want to influence public policy, whether for entirely self-serving reasons or for ideological reasons. If you ban one outlet, the money will find another outlet — probably less transparent.

    • I suspect McKay is clear. The whole narrative hangs on McKay baying below market price for the home. That shouldn’t be hard to assess. I don’t know the address or I’d jump on Zillow and look up the comps myself.

      In my mind there are two stories here. The $50,000 campaign contribution from The Halle Companies to McKay and, separately, the alleged quid pro quo. In my opinion, if a politician takes money from a developer they should recuse themselves from voting on matters that affect that developer. Guess what would happen? Developers would stop making campaign contributions. At the least, our General Assembly should enact the same type of legislation that is on the books of 46 other states and severely limit campaign contributions.

      Virginia is very corrupt. Anybody who thinks Dominion or land developers make those campaign contributions out of a sense of civic responsibility is smoking crack. No society should ever let their politicians be bought and paid for by special interests.

  3. re: ” In my opinion, if a politician takes money from a developer they should recuse themselves from voting on matters that affect that developer. ”

    Yup. In fact, make that across the board for any BOS for any development.

    If they take money – they no longer have a vote. Period.

    Do that for the Yahoos in the GA also. Take money from a company affected by legislation and you lose your vote. Period.

    DJ is right. You cannot stop all of it. There will always be paths but that does not mean you can’t stop a good bit of it and make it harder – and more visible.

    This fatalistic idea that you do nothing because money is “fungible” is just foolish idiocy.

    We have a state that is rife with ways for money to influence legislation and we say ” oh , it’s fungible..we can’t do anything about it”. Balderdash with a capital B!

  4. I have always maintained that § 15.2-2287.1 should apply to all jurisdictions and not just Loudoun.

    § 15.2-2287.1. Disclosures in land use proceedings.
    A. The provisions of this section shall apply in their entirety to the County of Loudoun.

    B. Each individual member of the board of supervisors, the planning commission, and the board of zoning appeals in any proceeding before each such body involving an application for a special exception or variance or involving an application for amendment of a zoning ordinance map, which does not constitute the adoption of a comprehensive zoning plan, an ordinance applicable throughout the locality, or an application filed by the board of supervisors that involves more than 10 parcels that are owned by different individuals, trusts, corporations, or other entities, shall, prior to any hearing on the matter or at such hearing, make a full public disclosure of any business or financial relationship that such member has, or has had within the 12-month period prior to such hearing, (i) with the applicant in such case; or (ii) with the title owner, contract purchaser or lessee of the land that is the subject of the application, except, in the case of a condominium, with the title owner, contract purchaser, or lessee of 10 percent or more of the units in the condominium; or (iii) if any of the foregoing is a trustee (other than a trustee under a corporate mortgage or deed of trust securing one or more issues of corporate mortgage bonds), with any trust beneficiary having an interest in such land; or (iv) with the agent, attorney or real estate broker of any of the foregoing. For the purpose of this subsection, “business or financial relationship” means any relationship (other than any ordinary customer or depositor relationship with a retail establishment, public utility, or bank) such member, or any member of the member’s immediate household, either directly or by way of a partnership in which any of them is a partner, employee, agent, or attorney, or through a partner of any of them, or through a corporation in which any of them is an officer, director, employee, agent, or attorney or holds 10 percent or more of the outstanding bonds or shares of stock of a particular class, has, or has had within the 12-month period prior to such hearing, with the applicant in the case, or with the title owner, contract purchaser, or lessee of the subject land, except, in the case of a condominium, with the title owner, contract purchaser, or lessee of 10 percent or more of the units in the condominium, or with any of the other persons above specified. For the purpose of this subsection “business or financial relationship” also means the receipt by the member, or by any person, firm, corporation, or committee in his behalf, from the applicant in the case or from the title owner, contract purchaser, or lessee of the subject land, except, in the case of a condominium, with the title owner, contract purchaser, or lessee of 10 percent or more of the units in the condominium, or from any of the other persons above specified, during the 12-month period prior to the hearing in such case, of any gift or donation having a value of more than $100, singularly or in the aggregate.

    If at the time of the hearing in any such case such member has a relationship of employee-employer, agent-principal, or attorney-client with the applicant in the case or with the title owner, contract purchaser, or lessee of the subject land except, in the case of a condominium, with the title owner, contract purchaser, or lessee of 10 percent or more of the units in the condominium, or with any of the other persons above specified, that member shall, prior to any hearing on the matter or at such hearing, make a full public disclosure of such employee-employer, agent-principal, or attorney-client relationship and shall be ineligible to vote or participate in any way in such case or in any hearing thereon.

    C. In any case described in subsection B pending before the board of supervisors, planning commission, or board of zoning appeals, the applicant in the case shall, prior to any hearing on the matter, file with the board or commission a statement in writing and under oath identifying by name and last known address each person, corporation, partnership, or other association specified in the first paragraph of subsection B. The requirements of this section shall be applicable only with respect to those so identified.

    D. Any person knowingly and willfully violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

    • Mom – I don’t know the law very well. How does Loudoun’s law vary from the Virginia Law that requires disclosure of such items?

      • The short answer is Loudoun officials are the only ones in the Commonwealth “required” to make such disclosures and in certain cases recuse themselves from votes. You don’t know how much I wish this applied to Prince William but the law was a punitive one aimed at Loudoun and there is no appetite in Richmond to extend it beyond those borders.

      • It is derisively referred to as the Herring Law and was much more draconian, requiring recusal if you accepted $100 or more from any of the parties, until Marsden defanged it in 2014. Not surprising given how much he took in from the development lobby.

  5. Good LORD!

    What’s wrong with:

    ” ANY BOS that has accepted money from any land development applicant – cannot vote on any such proposals”

    I’m not a fan of “disclosure” myself. the miscreants game the system and the system itself is near impossible for the average person to navigate”.

    Just say – if you have a conflict – you’re done…disclosure is not enough.

    • I hate to sound like a “Virginia Way” weasel but broader more transparent disclosure would be a good first step. Those disclosures might be enough to push the voters on insisting that candidates they vote for endorse mandatory recusal.

  6. What a guy, DJ. You protest that this fellow deserves the benefit of a doubt, then smear him from head to toe with your bitter diatribe against alleged endemic corruption in all Virginia politics. Oh yeah, that’s fair. It also fits that famous phrase, politics as usual. Not my county, not my issue. Luckily the election is well off, not next week – the usual timing for this tactic. As you note, concerns about developer money not exactly a new issue in Fairfax Co…

    • Lol. There is no doubt that he took big campaign contributions from a company he supported with a re-zoning vote. In most places that would be illegal. In Virginia it is business as usual. And then we wake up, get snarled in a traffic jam and wonder why.

  7. As Larry often says. Good Lord. Gerry Connolly got to Congress from donations from Tysons landowners. Maybe McKay is guilty. But maybe the ultra-left among the Democrats realize McKay is a strong candidate and need to turn off middle of the road voters to get one of the crazies to win the primary. Even as they protect the racist Ralph Northam like they did for rapist Bill Clinton.

  8. re: ” broader more transparent disclosure ”

    I just don’t think that works. They turn it into a swiss-cheese of loopholes AND have you looked at how the State does disclosures? It’s a joke. It’s damned near impossible to get the info in any reasonable fashion – and that’s ON PURPOSE!

    When I said no vote if you get money – I was thinking primarily of BOS – local money -local votes. it gets more complicated when you go to the State GA and Congress where money oozes out of pores and once again I ask – is there a reasonable way for folks to find out – where .. Jerry Connolly’s money comes from – if the donors put it in a PAC and then the PAC doles it out but Connolly knows where it came from – he gets a direct reminder from the donors……

    There is no rule that does not become a slippery slope and subject to the swiss cheese loophole treatment.

    we are screwed.

  9. I’d like to see PACs done away with. They don’t provide the disclosure that occurs when an individual makes a campaign contribution. While I think there is a constitutional right to make a campaign contribution subject to applicable regulations, I’m not sure there is a right to bundle anonymously.

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