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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