Another Lesson in Virginia Political Corruption

by D.J. Rippert

Say governor, is that a Rolex you’re wearing? On Sept 4, 2014 former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell was found guilty of 11 counts of corruption. While the US Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction Chief Justice John G Roberts correctly described the former governor’s actions as “tawdry.” Back in Virginia, Governor McAuliffe formed an ethics panel to make recommendations and at least one law was passed limiting gifts from lobbyists to state politicians to $100 per year. Case closed, problem solved … right? Of course not! This is the Commonwealth of Corruption. The greased eels of the General Assembly aren’t going to let a little thing like a law “unline” their pockets.

Out of the office. One constant complaint by General Assembly members is how poorly they’re paid. They make about $18,000 per year. On an annual basis that’s pretty low. On a “units of value created” basis it’s astronomical given how little they accomplish to benefit the citizens of Virginia. Either way, they also get a $15,000 allowance for “office expenses.” That’s a lot of Bic pens. In fact, it’s income. Former Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling wanted to reclassify the money as income. “It’s not that they would make more money, but we would actually be transparent about the money they were making,” said Bolling. “Let’s call it what it is: It’s income.” No wonder he’s no longer active in Virginia politics!

Buddy, can you spare a dime, or $100,000? The $100 gift limit has several minor exceptions and one major exception. The major exception relates to “personal friends.”  The exception for personal friends is nebulous.  Moreover, who do politicians have as friends? CEOs? Union leaders? Why should a sitting politician be able to take a material gift from anyone outside his or her family?  Perform this mental test – when was the last time somebody from outside your family gave you a gift worth more than $1,000? For most people that never happens but apparently this happens a lot to our politicians. I wonder why “friends” give politicians lavish gifts?

There’s a little something in this envelope for you. Two years ago, long after the McDonnell affair, the Virginian-Pilot published an article entitled, “Lawmakers live large on campaign cash, the Virginia Way.” One would assume that the money donated by fun groups like Dominion Resources and Omega Protein as campaign contributions would be used to pay campaign expenses. In the Commonwealth of Corruption that would be a very bad assumption. Here’s what the Virginian-Pilot has to say about one of our upstanding legislators:

“An Associated Press review of the state’s finance system turned up examples like Chesapeake Democrat Del. Lionell Spruill, who hasn’t faced an opponent in two decades.

Since 2011, Spruill has spent $300,000 from his campaign account on numerous luxuries: a membership in a private business club, meals at Ruth’s Chris steakhouses around the country, and more than $2,000 at high-end Richmond restaurants during legislative sessions. More than 90 percent of the money Spruill raised came from corporations, trade organizations or special interest groups.

Spruill, who has not listed an outside income in years, declined to comment.”

The Associated Press analysis went on to note:

“Behavior that would get lawmakers locked up in other states or at the federal level is perfectly fine in the Old Dominion. Virginia is the only state where lawmakers can raise unlimited campaign donations from anyone, including corporations and unions, and spend the money on themselves.”

“A handful of lawmakers, including senior members in both parties, rely almost entirely on business interests and their representatives for campaign contributions. For instance, GOP Senate President Pro Tem Steve Newman has raised more than $360,000 since 2012; 99 percent of that money came from corporations, trade groups, lobbying firms or special interest groups.”

“The current system has little accountability. Lawmakers must disclose their spending but are free to do so in the vaguest details. Some lawmakers reimburse themselves thousands of dollars from their campaigns with only scant explanation, like “travel reimbursement.” Further, Virginia’s State Board of Elections does not audit or investigate campaign finance reports. Elected prosecutors can investigate campaign finance violations, but longtime political watchers could not recall a case ever being brought.”

The Virginia Way. Even those who hold our General Assembly in the lowest possible regard must find this shocking. Despite a national embarrassment over Governor Rolex’s activities four years ago the clowns in The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond (a wholly owned subsidy of Dominion Resources and Omega Protein) can solicit hundreds of thousands of dollars in “campaign contributions” which are not needed for campaigns and spend that money on pretty much anything with absolute impunity. Virginia, the most corrupt state in America.

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9 responses to “Another Lesson in Virginia Political Corruption

  1. Au Contraire DJ.. this is “free speech”!

    Heard that here in BR more than once..

    such blasphemy so early in the morn!

    • You MIGHT be able to claim that making the donations represents free speech. However, 46 of the 50 states do have limits on campaign contributions made to state politicians. However, there is absolutely nothing that prevents Virginia from legislating that campaign contributions be spent on legitimate campaign expenses.

      I’d like to see the Federal government “Capone ’em”. I am quite confident that the members of the ongoing RICO conspiracy known as the General Assembly do not claim the campaign donations they spend on themselves as income. I am confident that they do not pay taxes on that income. The IRS ought to put a couple dozen of our state legislators in handcuffs and orange jumpsuits for failure to declare income. Nothing like an evening news segment with a massive number of elected officials doing the perp walk to clean out the pig stye in Richmond.

      As an aside, the state does insist that the legislators pay taxes on their “office allowance”. Why? Because it’s income. But if it were called income the members of the General Assembly would have to admit they were paid $33,000 per year for six full time weeks of work. That annualizes to $286,000 per year. Yes, I am sure that they also work to some extent when not in session but it seems like more of a hobby than a job given how many of them own law firms, chains of gas stations, etc. Next, add all gifts from “personal friends” and gross that amount up to a pre-tax level. Now, add all campaign contributions spent on private clubs, out of state steak dinners, etc. I won’t even add the extra business practicing lawyers in the legislature get since their cases are heard by judges they directly elect to the bench.

      Pretty soon you realize that being a Virginia state politician is one of the most lucrative part time jobs in America.

  2. Bacon,
    I am a contributor to and admirer of this BLOG first because you inform about elements of Virginia of which we would not otherwise be aware and second you do so with fact, humility, and grace.

    In my opinion sponsoring rantings like this article and other postings from Rippert sullies your brand and lowers Bacon’s Rebellion to a level of gutter journalism the opposite of what you model.

    Whatever merits there might be in Rippert’s rhetorical flatulence, they are totally destroyed by his puerile condemnations, ad hominem attacks, and salacious adjectivising. Let this guy and his ilk publish his hate somewhere else until he learns how to make his points without insults.

    • A fascinating rant against ranting by a coward too afraid of repercussions to use his real name. Unfortunately for “musingsfromjanus” there is a blog by that name accessible through any internet search tool. I am going to take the leap of logic that the author of this comment is the same person as the author of that blog. Do I have that right Steve? On that blog there is an “About” section that identifies the author. The self-written description of the author is an opus of self-glorification and egomania. The last blog entry was published in 2012 which allows me to add laziness to cowardliness and delusional self-grandeur as I piece together a psychological profile of “musingsfromjanus”.

      A glimpse into the political savvy of “musingsfromjanus” is a blog entry dated August 19, 2012 entitled, “Obama’s Betrayal of His Promise Will Lose Him the Reelection”. The article is so poorly written that it’s hard to actually understand the author’s logic. Here’s an example of that “writing”:

      “Obama the President Has Modeled the Ugliest and Most Divisive Behavior and Rhetoric since the 19th Century
      Obama has done almost the opposite, certainly since losing the House of Representatives.”

      Apparently Obama just wasn’t liberal enough for “musingsfromjanus” although it’s hard to tell from his non-sensical ramblings what he actually thinks. . Here is the concluding sentence of that exercise in political absurdity, “Obama will lose this election because our betrayal, disappointment, and disillusionment are so profound we can not reward him with another term.” Calling the election for Romney less than three months before the election. How did that prediction work out genius?

  3. Ad hominem attacks are not permissible on this blog, and if they don’t stop on this thread, I’m going to delete them all.

  4. well.. I think it’s when they start that needs to be focused on…

    we seem to have a few who can’t accept others dialogue …

    It’s totally true that DJ is not an admirer of the Va GA… but I do appreciate his perspective and would hate to see it go away because
    others would attack him as a person.

    DJ – please keep posting and thanks for sharing your perspective.

    • “You beat Nicky with fists, he comes back with a bat. You beat him with a knife, he comes back with a gun. And you beat him with a gun, you better kill him, because he’ll keep comin’ back and back until one of you is dead.”

      From the movie Casino.

      I’ve had a loaded gun pointed at my head. I’m not going away because somebody doesn’t like my writing.

  5. Well, for the record it isn’t this “Steve” and I too vote for you to tone it down, please, DJ. I’ve had a full dose of the problem in Richmond this session, and I am far closer to your POV than to the Pollyanna message delivered by Former Delegate Saxman a few days ago. That was just plain funny. But I can’t endorse your rant.

    I think the behavior you complain about, using campaign funds for extensive personal spending, is actually rare. But it does happen and the bills to prevent it always seem to stumble. Just good ol’ fashioned campaign boodle provides plenty of ethical problems, even when spent entirely on campaigns, and the time has come to talk about real limits.

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