Baby Steps Toward Campaign Finance Reform

Del. Marcus Simon
Photo credit: Bob Brown/AP

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Virginia law prohibits a candidate for public office from converting “excess” campaign funds to her personal use when closing out her campaign finance account. However, there is nothing to prevent a candidate from using campaign funds for personal, non-campaign related, purposes during a campaign.

Ever since his first General Assembly session (2014), Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, has introduced legislation to prohibit any personal use of campaign funds. Year after year, the bill died, with no recorded vote, until the 2019 session, when subcommittee votes were required to be recorded. That year, the bill died, 4-3, in subcommittee, with the four votes against it cast by Republicans. Last year, the bill was carried over again.

He is having much better success this year.  HB 1952 passed the House by a vote of 100-0. (Such strong support makes one wonder why the bill had such difficulties in previous years.) It recently cleared the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee on a vote of 11-2. The “no” votes were cast by Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, and Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg. According to press reports, McDougle objected to the vagueness of what would constitute “personal use.” He thought the legislation should spell out specifically what would be prohibited uses, rather than authorizing the State Board of Elections to develop regulations on the implementation of the provisions.

The historic resistance to such commonsense legislation is one of the factors that have led to much cynicism regarding Virginia legislators and campaign finances.