Bring Your Own Checkbook

Jeff Schapiro, the Times-Dispatch‘s preeminent political reporter, has expanded his repertoire from print and PBS radio to video commentary. It’s good to see that the T-D is making progress in melding the resources of its old media newsroom with the new media capabilities of

The subject of Schapiro’s commentary is a favorite theme of Bacon’s Rebellion: the money nexus between business and governance. But Schapiro’s spin is a little different this time. Instead of emphasizing how big donors manipulate the political process for business advantage, he highlights how politicians from the Elephant Clan and Donkey Clan shake down businesses — manipulating business, if you will, for political advantage.

Speaking of the role of money in politics, it appears that Transurban USA, the American subsidiary of an Australian company that leases the Pocahontas Parkway and is building HOT lanes on the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia, mistakenly made $172,000 in illegal contributions to Virginia politicians.


Transurban USA asked that the money be returned so it can donate the money to a Virginia-based charity, the Court Appointed Special Advocate Program for children, reports Tyler Whitley with the Times-Dispatch. Michael Kulper, executive vice president for North America operations, began notifying the politicians yesterday of its apparently illegal activity.

Donations included:

  • $5,000 to Moving Virginia Forward, the political committee of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine
  • $12,500 to the Dominion Leadership Trust, the leadership PAC of House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford;
  • $12,000 to the Virginia Republican Senate Leadership Trust
  • $10,500 to the Commonwealth Victory Fund, a Democratic Party of Virginia committee

All told, Democratic organizations and legislators received $73,000, and Republican legislators and organizations received $97,000 between 2005 and 2008.

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  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I like the Transburan story.

    If I understand it correctly, the same donations, the same process of money from business interests to the Gov and the GA is apparently just honky dory if they are good ole American companies.

    Sounds like Tranurban needs an official American corporate preference before they will be allowed to participate in “acceptable” graph and corruption.

    So.. Transurban does what the Dulles Airport Authority and Tysons Developers do …but it gets the buzzer….

    and the responses are just wonderful also.

    Instead of saying how this illustrates just how much money has intruded into the governance process.. the response is ” of course we’ll return it if it is not “legal”.

  2. “the same process of money from business interests to the Gov and the GA is apparently just honky dory if they are good ole American companies.”

    A better example is that Fluor gave the same amount of money to Gov. Kaine & the General Assembly, and they did so for the exact same purpose as Transurban (bribery used to foist the same terrible deal on an unsuspecting public). Since Fluor is an American company, their bribery is quite legal.

    The bottom line is that had state legislators closely read the comments on Bacon’s Rebellion, they would have seen my rants about the Australians behind this deal. They would then have saved themselves from violating the law by taking the tainted foreign lucre.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    How STUPID could they have been to not just have given that money to Fluor to pass on quite legally?

    My confidence is Transurban to know how to do business “effectively” is shaken to the core.

  4. “My confidence is Transurban to know how to do business “effectively” is shaken to the core.”

    Well, they did use bribes to get the deal, and then they are going to get their bribe money back. You can’t get much more effective than that.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    They aren’t reallygetting it back, it is being re-directed to a charity.

    Tax deductible, of course.

  6. Groveton Avatar

    Ahhhh….the state government in action. That infallible institution that brings tears of joy to the eyes of the “descendants of Pocohontas”. They write the laws. Unfortunately, many of their recent laws have been almost immediately rules unconstitutional. They enforec the laws. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be able to enforce those laws on themselves. Yes – these are the people in whom we should entrust $36B / year.

    This also exposes another core fallacy of the “descendants of Pocohontas”. Those descendants see no reason to limit campaign contributions (as the federal government has done). They say, “The money will just go to PACs. At least, in Virginahontas, we can see where the donations are going and it’s all so very public.”. But wait …. Did Transurban make these contributions to individual politicians? Let’s see….

    Moving Virginia Forward
    Dominion Leadership Trust
    Virginia Republican Senate Leadership Trust
    Commonwealth Victory Fund (Groveton note – good to see it’s not the Commonwealth Defeat Fund)

    Those are … PACs!?!

    So, once again, Virginia has the managed to get the worst of both worlds – unlimited corproate and developer purchases of politicians and mysterious PAC contributions. As usual, the “descerndants of Pocohontas” are 50 years behind the times.

    Finally, I am interested to hear that the money will go to a charity. How sad that’s it’s not The Truth in Virginia Government Fund (aka The Larry Gross Factual Education Trust).

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    PACs! the man says with shock and disappointment.

    the same PACs that other “American”.. no “Pocohontas Corporations have used since gawd knows when to make sure that the right people get the right money without a trace other than the fact that we know that money was involved.

    the same money that some believe.. I believe it is “factual” that Groveton is one who has advocated such “free speech”.

    so which is it?

    Is this kind of money “free speech” or not?

    is this money “free speech” that warms the cockles of our Democratic hearts?

  8. charlie Avatar

    I’ll admit to be a bit confused; I thought a US company (even if it the sub of a foreign company) can write checks to PACS. Perhaps Virginia has different finance laws, or there was a question of control. I do think this was an honest mistake.

    But I love the chance to highlight that one BIG problem with road privatization is corruption. Giving companies the opportunity to be tax farmers is asking for trouble — that goes for toll highways, red light cameras, and HOV lanes. I’m not saying the opposite isn’t true either — if you let the government run it they get greedy as well — but this is where the theory of user fees on roads breaks down.

  9. Groveton:
    They got busted for violating federal, not state law. Also, they gave tons to individual members. From, where you can also look up Fluor’s bribery.

    $12,500 Dominion Leadership Trust
    $12,000 Va Rep – Senate Leadership Trust
    $10,500 Va Dem – Commonwealth Victory Fund
    $10,000 Kaine Inaugural 2006
    $7,500 Va Rep – House Campaign Committee
    $6,000 Saslaw for State Senate – Richard
    $5,500 Stosch for State Senate – Walter
    $5,000 Connolly for Fairfax County Board Chairman – Gerald
    $5,000 Williams for State Senate – Martin
    $5,000 Kaine for Governor – Tim
    $4,500 Moving Virginia Forward
    $4,500 Stolle for State Senate – Kenneth
    $4,000 Wardrup for Delegate – Leo
    $3,000 Moran for Delegate – Brian
    $3,000 Howell for State Senate – Janet
    $2,500 Houck for State Senate – Edward
    $2,500 Leadership PAC
    $2,000 Va Dem – Senate Caucus
    $2,000 Colgan for State Senate – Charles
    $2,000 Va Dem – State
    $2,000 Welch for Delegate – John
    $2,000 Va State Legislative Black Caucus
    $2,000 Rust for Delegate – Thomas
    $2,000 Watkins for State Senate – John
    $1,500 Scott for Delegate – James
    $1,500 Hall for Delegate – Franklin
    $1,500 Hamilton for Delegate – Phillip
    $1,500 Chichester for State Senate – John
    $1,500 Hugo for Delegate – Timothy
    $1,500 Griffith for Delegate – Morgan
    $1,500 Quayle for State Senate – Frederick
    $1,500 Norment for State Senate – Thomas
    $1,500 Davis for State Senate – Jeannemarie
    $1,250 Cuccinelli for State Senate – Kenneth
    $1,000 A Strong Majority PAC
    $1,000 Bulova for Fairfax County Board of Supervisors – Sharon
    $1,000 Lucas for State Senate – Louise
    $1,000 Deeds for State Senate – Creigh
    $1,000 Bell for State Senate – Brandon
    $1,000 Abbitt for Delegate – Watkins
    $1,000 Whipple for State Senate – Mary
    $1,000 Va Rep – Senatorial Committee
    $1,000 Blevins for State Senate – Harry
    $1,000 Cox for Delegate – Kirkland
    $1,000 Watts for Delegate – Vivian
    $1,000 Marsh for State Senate – Henry
    $1,000 Lambert for State Senate – Benjamin
    $1,000 McDonnell for Attorney General – Bob
    $1,000 Miller for State Senate – Yvonne
    $1,000 Ticer for State Senate – Patricia
    $1,000 Va Rep – State
    $1,000 Lingamfelter for Delegate – Scott
    $1,000 May for Delegate – Joe
    $1,000 Puckett for State Senate – Phillip
    $750 Iaquinto for Delegate – Salvatore
    $750 Caputo for Delegate – Carmin
    $750 McDougle for State Senate – Ryan
    $750 Shannon for Delegate – Stephen
    $750 Ward for Delegate – Jeion
    $750 Rerras for State Senate – Nick
    $750 BaCote for Delegate – Mamye
    $750 O’Brien for State Senate – James
    $500 Amundson for Delegate – Kristen
    $500 Cosgrove for Delegate – John
    $500 Melvin for Delegate – Kenneth
    $500 Purkey for Delegate – Bob
    $500 Herring for State Senate – Mark
    $500 Kilgore for Delegate – Terry
    $500 Spruill for Delegate – Lionell
    $500 Bulova for Delegate – David
    $500 Petersen for State Senate – Chapman
    $500 McEachin for State Senate – Donald
    $500 Vanderhye for Delegate – Margaret
    $500 Frederick for Delegate – Jeffrey
    $500 Cole for Delegate – Mark
    $500 Putney for Delegate – Lacey
    $500 Barker for State Senate – George
    $500 Plum for Delegate – Kenneth
    $500 Tata for Delegate – Robert
    $500 Puller for State Senate – Linda
    $500 Bowling for Delegate – Dan
    $500 Nixon for Delegate – Sam
    $500 Landes for Delegate – Steven
    $500 Martin for State Senate – Stephen
    $500 Callahan for Delegate – Vincent
    $500 Newman for State Senate – Stephen
    $500 Deeds for Attorney General – Creigh
    $500 Jones for Delegate – Dwight
    $500 Reid for Delegate – John
    $500 Majority Whip PAC
    $500 Albo for Delegate – David
    $500 Wampler for State Senate – William
    $500 McEachin for Delegate – Donald
    $500 Hanger for State Senate – Emmett
    $500 Stuart for State Senate – Richard
    $500 Joannou for Delegate – Johnny
    $500 Janis for Delegate – William
    $250 Fralin for Delegate – William
    $250 Marsden for Delegate – David
    $250 McClellan for Delegate – Jennifer
    $250 Valentine for Delegate – Shannon
    $250 Sherwood for Delegate – Beverly
    $250 O’Bannon for Delegate – John
    $250 Englin for Delegate – David

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Thank you Bob.

    Now.. how do ya’ll figure that this is Toll Road Corruption or Red Light Corruption as opposed to plain ole Vanilla Corruption.

    Please Groveton, educate me in the ways of money and politics.

    I need a few ‘facts” to set me straight on the difference between “free speech” money and “corruption” money.

    dare I ask.. if it is “corruption” is it’s companies that deal in toll roads but it’s “free speech” if it is companies that build highways for VDOT?

  11. Seems like vanilla corruption to me. Except… when you consider the cost to benefit ratio for Transurban, it raises the level of outrage.

    Cost to Transurban for the bribe: $0
    Benefit: Hundreds of millions over 80 years
    Benefit Ratio: Infinite!

    It should be illegal for any corporation or officer of a corporation to give cash to any state official having the power to approve or deny contracts with that corporation, but then all the contributions would just be given through junior employees and lobbying firms. So you’d have to ban contributions from registered lobbyists, too.

    It should be against the rules of the General Assembly for any member to vote upon a bill that would convey a direct financial benefit upon the member (as distinct from a benefit on the entire population).

    Maybe someone can get a video camera, dress up like Crocodile Dundee, and try to catch Howell and Kaine Abscam-style.

  12. Groveton Avatar


    Learn to use the search function. I have always argued for limits on campaign contributions. Always. I have engaged in a number of exchanges with Jim Bacon on this very board. I do not believe that campaign contributions constitute free speech any more than I think yelling “fire” in a crowded theater constitutes free speech. However, as I understand Jim Bacon’s arguments in favor of unlimited campaign contributions, he thinks Virginia has a better system that the federal government. He thinks the federal campaign contributions are hidden in PACs while Virginia’s are not. I disagree. I think the feds have half an answer while Virginia has no part of an answer.

    Is it Vanilla corruption? Yep. Just like the vanilla incompetence perpetually demonstrated by the GA. Unfortunately, like vanilla icing, vanilla corruption covers the whole cake. So, I add vanilla corruption in the GA to the long list of reasons why they should not be deciding any matters of importance in NoVA. But now comes the hard part – I think corruption is easier to spot up close than from a distance. So, I acknowledge the existance of corruption at the local level in NoVA – I just think that it will be easier to solve that corruption at the local level than the state level.

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    …and now..we pause for a short commercial:

    I wanna see you guys on the sponsor list.

  14. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Groveton, Our fine federal campaign spending laws have done a great job of controlling the infamous 527 groups, haven’t they? People can funnel as much money into those things as they want — and they can do so anonymously. That’s real accountability for you. I’ll take Virginia’s system — it’s the least bad of the alternatives.

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: 527’s

    these are two different animals.

    I haven’t formulated an opinion yet about what to do about 527’s

    but giving money to a 527 is not the same as giving money directly to an elected official who is actively involved in legislative decision-making on law that affects those that are giving the money.

    and here’s the real insult.

    When you buy a product. When you pay an electric bill. When your insurance policy increases in price.

    Embedded is YOUR dollars being given to an elected official because the company can legitimately write it off as a business expense.

    The only thing more perfect would be a item on your electric or cable bill or your new car paperwork that says “campaign contribution fee”.

  16. Groveton Avatar

    “Embedded is YOUR dollars being given to an elected official because the company can legitimately write it off as a business expense.

    The only thing more perfect would be a item on your electric or cable bill or your new car paperwork that says “campaign contribution fee”.”.

    You hit on a good point – especially with regard to companies operating under the protection of government regulation. If a lumber company makes too many campaign contributions then either their profits fall (and investors move on to other lumbar companies) or their prices rise (and customers move on to other lumber companies).

    However, this self-correcting mechanism does not exist for oligopolies / monopolies. They can increase costs (from contributions or lobbying) and not worry about losing customers due to higher prices since the customers have nowhere to go.

    It would seem that campaign contributions should not be permitted in the “rate base” of electricity companies or cable companies. If these companies want to spend directly out of profits – that would be OK. Investors have choices that consumers don’t have. However, their regulated returns should not include any deduction for lobbying or campaign contributions as a “cost of doing business”. Let me try an example. A regulated company has legitimate costs of doing business of $80. The state has decided that this company can set prices in order to make a 15% profit. Therefore, the company can charge $94 to the ratepayers and have a profit of $14 for the shareholders. If the company wants to spend $4 on lobbying or campaign contributions – it can. But it can’t charge the ratepayers more than $94. Any shareholder that doesn’t like the $10 profit (instead of $14) can sell his or her shares and invest elsewhere.

    I am really surprised that this is not the case.

    We need Barnie Day for an explanation of how this works.

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    it’s a cost of doing business.

    It would be like an investor questioning Dominion spending money on Press Releases and newspaper ads.

    Here’s the deal for Federal Employees.

    They essentially cannot accept any gift, even a dinner from company whether they do business with them or not – because if that was not a rule, the companies would just trade expenses for fancy dinners. so the rule is no money – period.

    If the recipient can receive money – they will find a way to get the money from A to B.

    Ya’ll wanna know why you only have two choices – a Republican that takes money and a Democrat that takes money?

    It’s because giving money to an independent would be throwing it down a rathole.

    but what would happen if the Independent has the same campaign financial situation as a Republican or Democratic incumbent?

    If we want to clean up this cesspool, we must get the money out IMHO.

    and we need to make it a felony with jail time for anyone caught either giving or receiving corporate money.

    and if you want to see a really curious thing.. go to VPAP and look at who their corporate sponsors are….

    it’s the same folks who are listed as giving money to candidates…

    now… why would a company that gives money to legislators also give money to VPAP?

    think about this.

  18. Groveton Avatar

    “now… why would a company that gives money to legislators also give money to VPAP?”.

    Hide in plain sight.

    People think that corruption equals handing envelopes of cash to politicians in back alleys. If the action is handing money to political campaigns while visible on the internet – it can’t be corruption, can it? The fact that both approaches involve buying influence is forgotten.

    Here’s an easy example. Let’s say I decide to run for office. That’s going to cost some money. The more I get in contributions, the less I pay out of my own pocket. In the end, there is practically no difference between donating to my campaign vs. handing me money. Ultimately, every $1 you give to my campaign is $1 less that I spend of my own money.

    Now comes the next fallacy – if you eliminate campaign contributions then only rich people will be able to run for office. This is true only if campaign spending is allowed to remain uncapped. If there were limits on what a campaign could spend then part of a winning candidate’s formula would have to be fiscal efficiency. Gee – I wonder if that skill might come in useful if elected?

  19. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry, let’s go further. No money except from individuals. No corporate money; no union money; no Sierra Club money; no Committee to Rescue Bad Land Investment money; no PEC money. No PACs; no bundling.

    Laundering money (i.e., A gives money to B, who gives it to Candidate C) becomes a felony.

    Also, place limits on self-financing.


  20. “Ultimately, every $1 you give to my campaign is $1 less that I spend of my own money.”

    It’s worse than that. You throw parties and go to dinner on the campaign credit card — standard practice. Tom DeLay went above and beyond by buying a condo & a car with campaign cash, decorating the condo with artwork purchased through his ‘charity.’ A few staffers have pleaded guilty, but none have gone to jail yet. The mastermind (not Tom) hasn’t even been charged.

    $80,000 bribe in the freezer? Be sure to visit my website. Only the most entertaining member of congress gets the shaft.

    “Now comes the next fallacy – if you eliminate campaign contributions then only rich people will be able to run for office.”

    It’s no fallacy, it’s absolutely true. You cap spending, and you’ve got 100% incumbency retention rate. Well, in the Commonwealth, we already have 100% incumbency retention. But at the federal level, there’s NO WAY to beat the incumbent advantage without cash.

    “No money except from individuals. No corporate money; no union money”

    You speak truth.

  21. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I agree with TMT.

    Outlaw anything that is no individual donations.

    Cap those donations and report every one of them electronically within 24 hours of donation.

    RSS – the SBE or VPAP sites to automatically transmit daily summaries.

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