Category Archives: Campaign finance reform

An Utter (and Videotaped) Disgrace of the Virginia General Assembly

by James C. Sherlock

Scott Johnson at the podium on Jan 17, 2023 testifying before the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions.

Whatever the Virginia Health Care Association (VHCA), the state’s nursing home lobbying organization, pays its General Counsel, Scott Johnson, it is not enough.

He has been representing them for 20 years, and he owns the General Assembly.

This is going to sound boring as I frame the background that is the subject of the hearing. But I feel I must try to explain the complexities to make what happened in the hearing understandable.

But I promise the hearing itself is not boring. There are heroes, heroines and villains.

That hearing was a thoroughgoing disgrace to the General Assembly of Virginia. Members are seen clearly to surrender their authority, their duties, and their personal dignity to an industry they are elected to oversee.

It was videotaped for posterity.

It represents the “Virginia Way.” a product of unlimited campaign donations. It is reprehensible.

The law passed through this process must be repealed in its entirety. Continue reading

Corruption, Ignorance Turn Deadly in the General Assembly

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia Department of Health inspectors, on page 11 of 66 of a statement of deficiencies dated June 21, 2021, wrote of a gut-wrenching discovery.

They found an incontinent patient at Autumn Care of Suffolk, a stroke victim unable to talk, tied to her bed by a staffer. She was terrified and humiliated.

The investigation resulted in lots of finger pointing but failed to pinpoint responsibility. Adult Protective Services found that the patient had been abused. The facility promised better training.

Autumn Care of Suffolk last quarter offered 17 minutes of registered nurse (RN) time per resident per weekday vs. a national average of 39 minutes. It provided five minutes of RN staffing per resident per day on weekends vs. a 26-minute national average. It is currently open and accepting new patients.

This article is for that poor woman.

And it is for the nurses, heroines and heroes of the pandemic, who consider nursing a vocation as well as a job. There was a shortage of RNs going into the pandemic. It is worse now because of burnout. Continue reading

VPM Reporter Digs Into Power For Tomorrow

Ben Paviour at Virginia Public Media has fleshed out additional substantial details on the political activities of Power for Tomorrow, a utility advocacy group with major funding from Dominion Energy Virginia.

Questions asked and issues hinted at by this report on Bacon’s Rebellion now have more clarity.

Yes, Paviour found quite a few Virginia incumbent legislators are being supported by the group, not just Senators George Barker (D) and Siobahn Dunnavant (R).  Other beneficiaries include Senator Joe Morrissey (D), Senator Scott Surovell (D), Delegate Delores McQuinn (D), Delegate Buddy Fowler (R) and Delegate Emily Brewer (D).  Most but not all are involved in party nomination contests.

Yes, there is a strong correlation with the people receiving support from Power for Tomorrow not receiving support from Clean Virginia, with the exception of Surovell.  He has received help from both.  Along with the mailings mentioned before, Power For Tomorrow is also spending on digital advertising (as Clean Virginia also does.)

Paviour also found the group is active in South Carolina, another Dominion Energy state, attacking a proposal that South Carolina utilities be forced to join a regional transmission organization.  He turned up the 2021 IRS 990 report for “Power 4 Tomorrow,” but of course that is now out of date.  The IRS reports for these groups lag badly.

The key issue that somebody needs to keep watching is how all of this is reported – or not – in campaign finance disclosures.  No question now, these are political expenses intended to influence an election.  Period. Power for Tomorrow still only shows up as having a registered lobbyist on the Virginia Public Access Project database, with no mention of any campaign donations.  That is the point where this may be stretching Virginia law and should irritate voters who care about transparency.


Personal Use of Campaign Funds–Some Clarifications

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

James Sherlock has posted an article accusing the General Assembly of being “the only state that allows candidates to raise unlimited funds and spend that money on personal expenses.” He bases that accusation on the defeat of two bills:  HB 1952 in 2021 and SB 1471 in 2023.

The accusation is misleading and the issue is more complex than he acknowledges.

Currently, Sec. 24.2-948.4 of the Code of Virginia has this language: “It shall be unlawful for any person to convert any contributed moneys, securities, or like intangible personal property to his personal use or to the use of a member of the candidate’s ‘immediate family’ as that term is defined in § 30-101.” If that language seems familiar, it is because it is the same language quoted by Jim as being in the 2021 and 2023 bills. Continue reading

Public Corruption Transacted in Public

by James C. Sherlock

Want that country club membership but don’t want to write the check for the initial membership fee?

How about the down payment on a vacation home?

Run for office in Virginia. Pay for it with campaign money. You don’t even have to win as long as you spend it during the campaign.

And it’s legal.  Because it’s not illegal.  Just claim that both are meant to host campaign strategy sessions.  Donor confabs.  Anything.

If you win, especially in one of Virginia’s single-party-dominated districts, you can do it every time you run.


Virginia is the only state that allows candidates to raise unlimited funds and spend that money on personal expenses. The only one.

General Assembly Democrats and Republicans take turns killing legislation to change the law. Bipartisan at last.

That is public corruption transacted in public.

And they don’t care. Continue reading

New Yorkers, Virginians Will See Your Political Campaign Contributions and Raise You Dick Saslaw

Sen. Dick Saslaw Official Photo

by James C. Sherlock

The New York Post was scandalized.

In a stunning display of how New York politics work, two of the state Legislature’s most outspoken opponents of charter schools are also among the biggest recipients of campaign cash from New York’s teachers’ union and its political action committee.

State Sen. John Liu (D-Queens), chairman of the New York City Education Committee, has raked in $33,300 since his first Senate race in 2018, putting him in the No. 3 spot behind Sen. John Mannion (D-Syracuse), who got $35,100 during the same period.

The money for the anti-charter pols came from both the New York State United Teachers — parent of the city’s powerful United Federation of Teachers — and its Voice of Teachers for Education PAC, state Board of Elections records show.

“Stunning,” they wrote.


Now I happen to agree with the Post’s position supporting charter schools. But the writers of the article are spoiled by New York’s campaign finance laws.

They need to come to Virginia to see what real financial influence in politics looks like. Continue reading

Senate Privileges and Elections Committee Votes for Virginia to Remain an Oligarchy

Sen. Chap Petersen speaking on senate floor. Credit: Virginia Mercury

by James C. Sherlock

Oligarchy: a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution.

The Privileges and Elections Committee of the Virginia Senate has voted down two bills by Senator Chap Petersen that would have restored some semblance of a democratic republic status to Virginia.

Senate Bill 803 would have for the first time set campaign finance limits in Virginia. Part of the bill summary:

Prohibits persons from making any single contribution, or any combination of contributions, that exceeds $20,000 to any one candidate for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, or the General Assembly in any one election cycle.

If SB803 had been signed into law, the contributions of persons, campaign committees, political committees, and corporations could not as thoroughly dominate Virginia politics in the future as they do today.

No more one-stop shopping for $250,000 campaign contributions. For $20,000 I expect my calls to be returned. For $250,000 I expect more.

Senate Bill 804 would have prohibited campaign donations by public utilities. Dominion’s river of ratepayer money flowing to politicians would dry up. What, exactly, do we think Dominion’s take-away is from that vote other than that the bazaar is still open?

The two bills were supported in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee only by Democrats. Just not enough Democrats. And no Republicans.

So we are left with state-sanctioned political corruption. Continue reading

Triumphs in Criminal Bail Reform and Restorative Justice

by James C. Sherlock

George Soros wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Sunday July 31.

Title: “Why I Support Reform Prosecutors.” Subtitle: “Justice or safety? It’s a false choice. They reinforce each other.”

Mr. Soros proudly proclaims he has

supported the election (and more recently the re-election) of prosecutors who support reform.

And will continue to do so.

His right, but we need a little more information. Continue reading

“But, It’s Not a Perfect Bill. I Can’t Support That”

Sen. John Bell (D-Loudoun)

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Once again, the General Assembly has killed legislation that would prohibit politicians from using campaign donations to cover personal expenses. It is easy to express outrage at this almost annual occurrence, but, in doing some background research on the subject, I encountered some details that, on the one hand, provide a fuller picture of this this struggle, but, on the other hand, make the opposition even more perplexing, if not hypocritical.


The law

Upon the filing of a final report of campaign donations and expenses and disposing of surplus funds, the law prohibits “any person to convert any contributed moneys, securities, or like intangible personal property to his personal use or to the use of a member of the candidate’s immediate family.”  However, a “final report” needs to be filed only in any of the following circumstances: “when (i) a candidate no longer seeks election to the same office in a successive election, (ii) a candidate seeks election to a different office, or (iii) the candidate is deceased.”  Thus, as long as a member of the House or Senate continues to run for re-election for his seat, he can keep his campaign books open, filing only the required periodic reports.  There is no law that prohibits using donations for personal use during that time. Several years ago, the Associated Press reported on several instances in which legislators were clearly using campaign donations to pay for personal expenses. Continue reading

COPN’s Regional Monopolies Helped Boost Virginia Hospitals’ Operating Margins to more than 3x National Median in 2020

by James C. Sherlock

Virginians have been assured forever by the hospital lobby that the non-profit regional monopolies established and protected by COPN nearly everywhere but Richmond:

  • are benign public servants with a charitable mission;
  • certainly don’t drive up costs;
  • that competition does not matter;
  • that the State Medical Facilities Plan on which COPN is based, like government 5-year industrial plans everywhere, is both well- managed and prescient; and
  • that limiting capacity is the key to cost containment. (It turned out that limiting capacity was also the key to hospitals being overwhelmed by COVID. Clearly disaster preparedness is not among COPN criteria.)

Well. The median operating margin for Virginia’s 106 hospitals in 2020, the latest year for which data are available, was 9.2%. Nationally, that margin was 2.7%.

Virginians paid over $1.5 billion more for hospital visits than they would have if our hospitals had cumulatively posted a 3% operating margin, which has been at or near the national median  for years. Continue reading

A Compelling Case for Campaign Finance Reform – Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorneys

by James C. Sherlock

Remind me why, exactly, Virginia permits massive out-of-state campaign contributions to dominate local races.

I can’t hear you.

Because we do, an out-of-state organization is by far the biggest donor to Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorneys races in elections of local prosecutors.

Justice and Public Safety PAC, based in Washington D.C., utterly dominates support to the campaigns of progressive district attorneys in Virginia.  That PAC receives most of its funding from billionaire George Soros and his Democracy PAC. Continue reading

A Campaign Finance Reform Lesson – the 2021 Elections for the Virginia House of Delegates

by James C. Sherlock

Money in politics matters for a lot of reasons. Most of them are unsupportive of a republican form of government.

The majority of the Virginia political class is addicted to unlimited campaign donations, a powerful incumbent protection mechanism. They do not blush when they contend that transparency is all that is required when they oppose funding limits.

They avoid the fact that massive donations are transactional.

Dominion Energy’s enormous giving to Virginia candidates over the years has been pretty evenly split between the parties. Let’s call it what it is, a balanced investment portfolio. The ROI has been spectacular.

The Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), enabled by Virginia’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Act of 2006, is our primary resource for shedding light into the dark corners of the money flows.

This report singles out donations to candidates for the House of Delegates in the past two years. We can see where the money comes from and assess for ourselves what the donors may expect in return for their largesse. Continue reading

An Unmistakeable Odor of Corruption

TOLES © The Washington Post. Reprinted with permission of ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION. All rights reserved.

by James C. Sherlock

The data offered by the Virginia Public Access Project in Money in Politics have long left a perception that privileged access to Virginia elected officials is for sale.

Perception matches reality. It is for sale.

No one denies that:

  • a republican form of government is based on a rough equality of influence among its voting members;
  • unlimited campaign contributions in Virginia and only ten other states secure privileged access to elected officials ; or
  • privileged access brings with it the perception and perhaps in some cases the reality of undue influence on legislation and votes.

Some may think that large donations are only given to kindred spirits, legislators who favor the causes of the donors.

I am sorry to inform them that many large contributors give to each of two opposing candidates to secure influence on the winner. Or they give to the winner immediately after the election if they supported her opponent during the campaign. Or both.

What could go wrong in a system like that?

Yet, as Dick Hall-Sizemore reported earlier today, legislators from both parties have just voted in the Virginia Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections to sustain it. Continue reading

Hands Off My Donations!

Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) Photo credit: Virginia Mercury

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Virginia Senators wasted little time killing off an attempt to limit campaign contributions. On its first day of meetings, the Privileges and Elections Committee took up Senator Chap Petersen’s bill to place a $2o,000 cap on campaign contributions (SB 44). Voting to report the bill were five Democrats: Deeds (Bath), Ebbin (Alexandria), Mason (Williamsburg), McClellan (Richmond), and Boysko (Fairfax). The ten Senators voting to kill the bill included all seven Republicans on the committee: Vogel (Fauquier), Reeves (Spotsylvania), Ruff (Mecklenburg), Peake (Lynchburg), McDougle (Hanover), Bell (Loudoun), and Hackworth (Tazewell). Joining them were three Democrats: Howell (Fairfax), Spruill (Chesapeake), and Surovell (Fairfax).

This does not bode well for Petersen’s headliner campaign bill that would ban campaign contributions from public utilities (SB 45). The legislation is obviously aimed at Dominion Energy. Petersen has called on the Governor to support the bill. It will be instructive to see if (1) Youngkin comes out publicly in support of the bill and (2) if he does, whether that will be enough to sway enough senators, Democrats and Republicans, to vote for the bill.

Terry McAuliffe as Governor Aggressively Denied Charter Schools to Poor Minority Children

by James C. Sherlock

Terry McAuliffe demonstrated as governor that he will fight public charter schools.

He will oppose them regardless of the lifelong costs to the students of some truly pitiful Virginia public schools, many with majorities of minority students.

When governor, he vetoed a major attempt by the General Assembly to help those kids.

Indeed, not a single charter school has been approved by the Virginia Board of Education since the McAuliffe administration took office in 2014. Two, subject to reauthorization by hostile Boards, have closed.

He and his supporters in the unions and the ed schools consider the children be acceptable collateral damage to their policy preferences. Continue reading