Category Archives: Money in politics

Virginia as New Jersey: Dem Support Grows to Repeal Right-to-Work

Right-to-work states.

by James A. Bacon

Democrats may or may not be poised to take control of the Virginia General Assembly. Steve Haner, who knows infinitely more about Virginia politics than I do, thinks Republicans have a shot at retaining their majorities. But from my untutored perspective, all signs point to a big Democratic win this fall. A return of state governance to the Democrats has very different implications today than it would have, say, 20 years ago. This is not the party of Jerry Baliles, Doug Wilder or even Mark Warner (back when he governed the state as a moderate). The Dems have moved far to the left and, as I opined recently, issues that were never issues before now are.

A case in point: A Virginia Chamber of Commerce survey of state lawmakers has found that a majority of Democratic lawmakers say they oppose the state’s right-to-work law.

Reports VPM:

Dozens of Democratic candidates skipped the question or did not respond to the Chamber’s annual survey. But a majority answered, and all but three candidates in the House of Delegates and four in the Senate said they did not support the law. Most of the candidates who made that pick were either incumbents in safe Democratic districts or challengers with no legislative record. Continue reading

More in the Nefarious Hunt for DARK MONEY!

By Peter Galuszka

Sound the klaxon horn at Bacon’s Rebellion! More DARK MONEY is coming to pollute the state’s glorious electoral process.

Emily’s List, a PAC supporting female Democratic candidates, has announced that it is planning on donating an extra $1.5 million to help flip the GOP-controlled Virginia General Assembly.

Along with another $600,000 Emily’s List gift made jointly with Priorities USA, the money is the largest single investment the PAC has ever made in an individual state’s legislative elections, according to WTOP Radio of Washington.

Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock said the races are underfunded and the funds should help 39 women running in Virginia’s off-year elections flip the General Assembly.

That’s not all. According to The Washington Post, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D. 2nd) has created a committee to raise $228,000 to match the same amount raised by Republicans to fight her reelection next year. The reason for the GOP largesse? Luria, along with U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th), had the unmitigated gall to sign a letter in the Post of several Members of Congress with defense or intelligence calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump (not a bad idea in my book). Luria is a retired Navy commander and Spanberger was a covert officer for the Central Intelligence Agency.  Continue reading

Lobbying Entertainment Data Still Deceptive

“Reported” entertainment events for the 2018-2019 cycle, a fraction of the actual number due to loopholes in Virginia law. Click for larger view.

By Steve Haner

‘Our friends at the Virginia Public Access Project are a bit later this year with their data and visuals on Virginia’s embarrassingly weak and intentionally vague lobbyist entertainment reporting.  It is still nothing but a sham, exactly how the legislators and lobbyists want it.

The 2018 VPAP coverage was subject of a May 2018 Bacon’s Rebellion report, but this time we are five weeks away from tight elections in both bodies.  Voters are not short of things to get outraged about, but we can add this to the list.

The basic 2019 report is little changed from VPAP’s 2018 data.   Last year 109 of the 140 legislators admitted accepting at least one entertainment event, and this year it appears 111 did.  The number who report accepting five or more has dropped.  The key word in that sentence is “reporting”.

UPDATE:  VPAP has now added this year’s graphic on the high number of lobbyist disclosures that simply ignore the directive to be specific about the “matters” that get their attention.  A few well placed $100 fines and red faces would fix that, but of course, the point is to PRETEND to disclose….

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The Rise of Out-of-State Money

Democratic Party campaign donors from outside Virginia. Source: Virginia Public Access Project

Contributions from Democratic Party out-of-state donors has reached a new peak in Virginia’s 2019 legislative elections — $3.4 million, or 15% of total donations — according to new data visualization graphic published by the Virginia Public Access Project.

A similar trend is visible among Republican donors, though not as pronounced.

Out-of-state Republican Party donations.

As out-of-state moneyed interests assume a bigger role in campaign financing, we can expect the preoccupations and proclivities of those donors to influence the tenor of Virginia politics. In other words, we can expect Virginia politics to become even more hyper-partisan and vicious.

–JAB

Dominion Has Lost the Dems. What’s Next?

Susan Swecker, chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

Dominion Energy is fast losing the Democratic Party. Following the lead of dozens of Democratic candidates and elected officials, the Democratic Party of Virginia has declared that it will no long accept political contributions from the electric utility. Reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Party Chairwoman Susan Swecker said Dominion’s contributions are a “very contentious issue with a lot of folks all across the commonwealth, and we thought it was time for us to just step up and say this is where we are,” according to an interview published on the left-leaning blog Blue Virginia.

Party spokesman Jake Rubenstein confirmed the decision but would not comment further. DPVA’s pledge also includes Appalachian Power, the state’s other electric monopoly.

The House Democratic Caucus and Gov. Ralph Northam’s political arm The Way Ahead are still accepting Dominion money, but it’s clear which way the party is heading. Virginia Democrats increasingly embrace a progressive/left ideology along with an apocalyptic view of climate change and a thorough-going hostility toward fossil fuels. Although Dominion is moving aggressively toward renewable energy, including a just-announced $7.8 billion offshore wind project as well as billions of dollars in solar projects, the utility still remains committed to natural gas, as highlighted by its Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, and nuclear power, which is also unpopular with the Left, as supplementary energy sources. Continue reading

Virginia’s Dark Money Legal Machine

Sen. Jill Vogel

When the deep-pocketed corporate backers of “Doctor Patient Unity” set up their dark money entity, they registered the partnership in Virginia. The State Corporation Commission filing listed the partnership’s registered agent as North Rock Reports, LLC, in Warrenton.

North Rock, reports the New York Times in an article about Doctor Patient Unity’s $28 million advertising campaign to influence Congress on legislation affecting surprise medical billing (see previous post), is common to more than 150 other political action groups. North Rock’s name surfaced a couple of years ago in news reports about “Protect America’s Consumers,” a group that attacked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a creation of the Obama administration criticized by conservatives for engaging in regulatory overkill. The LLC also has ties to the Republican National Committee, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

It turns out that North Rock Reports LLC has its own SCC registration filing, and North Rock’s registered agent is Jason Torchinsky, who, coincidentally enough, listed the very same business address as North Rock — 45 North Hill Dr., Suite 100, Warrenton — and is a partner of the Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky PLLC law firm at the same address. The “Holzman Vogel” in the firm refers to founding partner Jill Holtzman Vogel, a state senator from Winchester and Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Continue reading

National Dark Money Campaign Sloshes into Virginia

Rep. Ben Cline — one of 50 Congressmen targeted by $28 million dark money campaign

A lot of things are happening in our dysfunctional health care system outside the public view. But every so often, a piece of flotsam pops to the surface that reveals the rent-seeking behavior by private interests in a system regulated at every level by government. The latest revelation concerns two private equity-backed physician-staffing groups behind a $28 million national ad campaign aimed at pressuring members of Congress, including Rep. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge.

This particular incident also illustrates the role of dark money in our political system. Rather than influence elected officials directly by contributing to their campaigns, this initiative sought to pressure them by influencing their constituents.

By way of background, many hospitals — including those in Virginia — staff their emergency departments with physicians who belong to TeamHealth, Envision Healthcare, or other groups that specialize in operating emergency rooms. Emergency medicine is a specialized niche, and these firms claim to do a better job of managing emergency rooms than most hospitals can themselves. This TeamHealth white paper describes how outsourcing can “transform” hospital emergency departments when “patient flow is crawling, outcome measures are flagging, and there’s bad blood among physicians.” Continue reading

Big Money Update

by James A. Bacon

Looks like my post of a few days ago arguing that the Democrats were the party of Big Money in Virginia requires an update. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Republican state Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, will report a $500,000 campaign donation from top GOP contributor Richard Uihlein, an Illinois industrialist.

Taking this monster contribution into account, instead of out-raising Republicans in Big Money donations by a 3½-to-1 ratio, Dems are out-raising them by a mere 3-to-1 ratio. Any authoritative conclusions will have to await the final filings after the election.

Virginia Ethics Enforcement So Weak It Can’t Be Rated

by Don Rippert

Your General Assembly in Action (or inaction).  The Coalition for Integrity (C4I) has rated the political ethics enforcement approaches of the 50 states.  Virginia’s ethics enforcement is so weak that it is one of seven states that cannot be rated.  This should not be surprising to anybody who regularly reads this blog. The other un-ratable states are Arizona, Idaho, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. The Coalition for Integrity acknowledges that Virginia has two ethics boards (Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council and the Virginia House Advisory Panel) but finds that both have “Limited or No Power”. As the Center for Integrity states in its general recommendations, “A toothless ethics agency serves no purpose. Agencies need wide powers to investigate and sanction all government personnel. Currently, seven agencies have limited or no investigative or sanctioning power.” Of course Virginia is one of the seven. Continue reading

Dems, Big Money, and Cultural Dominance

Note: The HCA figure is incorrect in this table. The hospital company distributed $149,750 to Democrats, $157,000 to Republicans, and $2,500 to others.

by James A. Bacon

It happened so slowly, I hardly noticed. The Democratic Party has morphed into the party of Big Money in Virginia. The Republican Party has become the party of the little guy. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Dark Money Update

Things Go Better with Koch. George Mason University wants its university foundation board to be exempt from Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. But Transparent GMU, a student group, has sued the foundation to turn over records of agreements with private donors, in particular those from the conservative-libertarian Charles Koch Foundation. University officials have conceded that agreements with the Koch organization had strings attached giving it input into the hiring of faculty associated with its gifts. A circuit court judge sided with the university last summer. Now the case has made it to the Virginia Supreme Court. Oral arguments were heard yesterday, reports the Virginia Mercury.

The case raises legitimate legal issues, as described in the article. But as a matter of public policy, it seems evident that university foundations, which administer billions of dollars for public Virginia universities, are integral components of the institutions, and their activities are closely coordinated. I side with Transparent GMU and say that GMU’s foundations — indeed all public college foundations — should be subject to FOIA.

Of course, I also say that Transparent GMU also should be more, well… transparent. The student group’s Facebook page reveals nothing about where it gets its money. It’s highly unlikely, however, that a bunch of students could afford to appeal the case all the way to the state Supreme Court. Where did Transparent GMU’s money come from? There is probably a connection with UnKoch My Campus, a well-funded organization devoted to dogging the Charles Koch Foundation around the country. But UnKoch My Campus is itself less than fully transparent about where its money comes from. Time for a little less hypocrisy and more transparency all around.

What does ACRONYM stand for? ACRONYM, a self-described political organization “committed to building progressive power and creating sustainable digital infrastructure for the progressive movement,” has donated $150,000 to the Democratic Party of Virginia, reports The Washington Free Beacon — tied for the largest single donation the party has received this year. Continue reading

A Shaft of Light in the Dark Money Gloom

by James A. Bacon

As a follow-up to yesterday’s “dark money” post comparing the resources available to the conservative Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy (TJI) and the liberal Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (CI), it is only fair for me to note that CI did disclose its major donors in its 2016 990 form. In numerous posts, I have lamented the lack of full disclosure by nonprofits active in the public-policy arena. However, some groups have voluntarily provided that information. CI is one of them, and it deserves credit for its transparency.

An inspection of CI’s major contributors is revealing. I present the details here not out any sense of “exposing” the think tank but to provide a glimpse of the routine things occurring outside the public eye. As an old journalistic saying goes, “Follow the money.” Virginia journalists have shown little interest in following the money unless it leads to a deep-pocketed corporation. But there are billions of dollars sloshing around the nonprofit sector. If citizens have any interest in developing a full understanding of how public policy is made in Virginia, they should agitate for universal disclosure of the kind of information that CI provided voluntarily.

CI, which reported $1,295,000 in revenue in 2016, relied most heavily upon funding from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — $265,000, to be exact. That Washington, D.C.-based research and policy institute describes its mission as analyzing state and federal budget proposals, “focusing especially on programs for low- and moderate-income families.” CI notes that it is one of 40 similar organizations in the State Priorities Partnership — coordinated by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — which share “credible, independent and accessible information and analyses of fiscal and economic issues with particular attention to the impacts on low- and moderate-income persons.” Continue reading

Dark Money and Think Tanks

by James A. Bacon

When writing about the passing of Mike Thompson, founder of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy (TJI) (see previous post), I chanced to look at TJI’s 990 forms. It had been my impression that Mike ran the small-government think tank on a shoestring, and the IRS filing confirmed it. The vast majority of the money Mike raised went directly into programs.

Virginia has another think tank, the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (CI), that occupies the same niche as TJI, publishing research reports on Virginia-specific issues. CI, a center-left group, does solid, credible work. But it also frames issues on education, immigration, health care and the budget the same way you would expect a center-left group to do.

Having written extensively about the role of dark money in Virginia — by “dark” money, I mean money that is not subject to public reporting requirements — I was curious to see how CI’s funding compared to TJI’s. No surprise: Year-in, year-out CI has generated significantly more revenue than TJI — by a margin of four- or five-to-one in recent years, as can be seen in the table above. That’s just one more example, as if another were needed, of how the political system is rigged in favor of the left. Continue reading

We’ll Miss You, Mike

by James A. Bacon

Mike Thompson, president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy (TJI), passed away this weekend after a battle with leukemia. Founder of Virginia’s only state/local think tank with a conservative bent, the Northern Virginian was a regular fixture in Richmond and a consistent voice for small government.

I had the pleasure to work with Mike on and off over many years. I will miss his cheerful, amiable presence and his “big tent” approach to getting things accomplished in the legislature. In a world dominated by left-leaning dark money (more on that in my next post), Mike and his friend-and-collaborator Chris Braunlich were remarkably successful at injecting conservative perspectives into the debates over taxes, budget reform, K-12 education, the environment, health care, and economic development.

In an email distributed yesterday, Chris told Mike’s story better than I can. Chris wrote:

Mike Thompson got his start in youth politics, as a leader in the “Youth for Goldwater” movement, later joining the National Board of Young Americans for Freedom and leading the Student Committee for Victory in Vietnam.  A passion for youth involvement continued throughout his life, especially as vice chairman of The Fund for American Studies which teaches the principles of limited government and free-market economics to students and young professionals in America and, indeed, throughout the world.

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Democrats Dominate Dark Money

by James A. Bacon

Left-leaning groups have done an amazingly effective job of highlighting the role of conservative and libertarian “dark money” in the public sphere. Newspapers like the Washington Post and New York Times have eagerly amplified the findings, for example, of a student group, Transparent GMU, that raised issues about the influence of the infamous Koch Brothers over faculty hiring at George Mason University.

While groups like Transparent GMU and UnKoch My Campus makes life miserable for the Koch family and institutions it sponsors such as GMU’s Mercatus Center and Scalia School of Law, it has no counterpart on the right. No nonprofit/media axis exists to expose the machinations of left-wing funders on college campuses.

The influence exercised by the Kochs through the Mercatus Center ($63 million a year in revenue, according to its 2016 990 form) is widely known. But who has heard of GMU’s Center for Climate Change ($58 million in revenue, according to its 2014 990)? The Center played an important role in U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s RICO investigation into alleged oil company collusion and stonewalling on climate change. Only thanks to the research of Chris Horner at the American Enterprise Institute into the political economy of climate change has the Center’s role come partially to light. However, Horner can’t seem to excite the interest of Washington Post and New York Times into who is pulling the strings behind left-wing causes, so almost no one knows of it. Continue reading