Category Archives: Money in politics

Hey, Politicians, Give Unspent Campaign Funds to Charity

by James C. Sherlock

I am a strong believer in the generosity of most Americans. I offer in this essay a way for Virginia elected officials to donate campaign money left over from their last elections to charities that provide healthcare services to Virginia’s poor. It is a simple concept that can do a lot of good.

The pot of money. Virginia’s next state election campaigns are 15 months away. The victors of the 2019 and 2017 general elections were sitting on nearly $8 million in cash in their campaign coffers as of Dec. 31, 2019. The totals:

  • $2,943,000 in the Senate,
  • $4,119,000 in the House and
  • $853,000 among the Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General.

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Money and Chaos in Virginia Politics

by James C. Sherlock

Having watched the flood of money into the 2017 and 2019 Virginia elections and the utter chaos in the 2020 General Assembly, I offer what I hope are two reform suggestions that meet with bipartisan approval.

Limit the money in state politics

I wrote an entire column on the abuses of unlimited campaign donations and their effects on healthcare policy in Virginia. Bacon’s Rebellion has been reporting on the system for years.

Campaign donations in unprecedented amounts in 2016-17 and 2018-19 directly affected our state elections first for constitutional officers and then for the General Assembly. An ocean of out-of-state money now threatens to tilt Virginians’ votes on a constitutional amendment for redistricting reform that was agreed upon by bipartisan majorities in the 2019 and 2020 General Assemblies under Republican and then Democratic leadership. Continue reading

Virginia Has No Campaign Contribution Limits — And It Shows

by James C. Sherlock

Did anyone notice the reporting last year that Virginia’s 2019 state election drew unprecedented amounts of special interest money from out of state, most of it targeted to turn the state blue? It worked.

Federal laws regulate the use of money in federal elections. The states implement and enforce campaign finance laws for state-level candidates. Virginia is one of only nine states[1] with no limits on any of the five major categories (see below) of political contributions. Virginia’s combination of state elections in years in which there are no federal elections, lack of limits on campaign contributions and our status as a purple state make us the biggest target of all for out-of-state campaign money, before and after elections.

The most widely cited[2] categories of influence-related giving are:

  1. Individual to candidate contributions
  2. State Party to candidate contributions
  3. PAC to candidate contributions
  4. Corporate to candidate contributions
  5. Union to candidate contributions

Money Laundering. Numbers 2 and 3 in the list above represent legalized money laundering. Give a ton of money to a state party or a PAC and those organizations give it to the candidates. To that list I would add candidate-to-candidate contributions rampant in Virginia. Give a ton of money to a candidate who doesn’t need it and he or she will give it to others who do, increasing the donor politician’s influence over the votes of the recipients. I called that “Speaker’s money” in my last essay[3]. Continue reading

How Hospitals Exercise Political Clout

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia’s hospitals and health systems have for decades gotten everything they have sought from the state government, both the constitutional officers and the General Assembly. Readers of this space have been provided the details of some of their successes that are counter to the public good. But what is the source of all that political power?

Money. Political contributions matter. These data are all from

  • In the 2018-19 campaign cycle, hospitals and health systems gave $2,368,406 in donations to candidates for the General Assembly.
  • In the 2017 election cycle, they gave $392,187 to Governor Northam, $117,500 of it after his victory. And he is term limited.
  • Attorney General Herring received from the hospitals and health systems $52,000 for his first campaign, $62,725 for his second and $23,000 since then. He is charged with enforcing the antitrust laws against those donors. He has not enforced them.
  • Even those who think it fair for hospitals and health systems to help elect these officials can’t be happy with the post-election donations.

I took the time to assess the key votes that supported the wishes of the hospitals in the General Assembly. I looked up the recorded votes on three bills: Continue reading

How Virginia Would Fare Under President Biden, Part 1

By DJ Rippert

And then there were two. Today, Elizabeth Warren announced that she will withdraw from the presidential race. That leaves Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard (yes, she’s still running) as the remaining candidates for the Democratic nomination. Given that Tulsi Gabbard has exactly one delegate (from American Samoa where she was born), the odds of her prevailing are so low that the race can safely be considered a two- man contest. Two weeks ago Joe Biden’s campaign seemed deader than disco. Then came Super Tuesday. Now he’s the front runner.

It seems worthwhile, then, to consider how Biden’s announced policies would affect Virginia if he were elected president this November. Politico keeps an updated list of the candidates’ positions on the issues which you can see here. Politico records the candidates’ positions using fifteen categories. This blog post examines the first five categories — criminal justice, economy (excluding taxes which is a separate category), education, elections and energy (including the environment and climate change). The remaining ten categories will be examined in future articles.

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Money Can’t Buy You Love (or Elections)

Source: FiveThirtyEight. Click to view larger image.

The 2020 election season has been fascinating to behold. Two billionaires, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, attempted to purchase themselves the Democratic Party presidential nomination through massive advertising buys. Bloomberg supplemented his television and online ad buys by hiring every party operative in sight and setting up campaign offices everywhere.

“It is an open question whether Bloomberg’s investment in Virginia — unparalleled among his Democratic opponents — will translate into votes,” wrote the Washington Post last week. It’s an open question no longer. All that money bought him 127,000 votes, or about 9.7% of the total.

According to Business Insider, Bloomberg dropped $18 million on television and radio ads in Virginia, about 50 times what Biden spent — “and got demolished.”

Steyer has spent loads of money on cable TV ads in Virginia (I can’t find a specific number, but I’ve seen plenty of the ads) but snagged 1,586 votes in Virginia, or about 0.1% of the total. Continue reading

How Politically Skewed Is Virginia’s Artista Class?

In my previous blog post, I documented how Virginia’s college and university faculty staff skew leftward in their campaign contributions (at least among those who donated $10,000 or more over the past 20 years). But the imbalance was nothing compared to that of Virginia’s artistic/literary class. Using the same methodology (more than $10,000 in contributions over the 20 years as found in the Virginia Public Access Project database), I find that artists and authors have contributed about 4.5 times more to Democrats than Republicans. That number understates the degree of the disparity. Patricia Cornwell, known for her Kay Scarpetta crime novels, accounted for almost four-fifths of all GOP contributions, but she has long since decamped for Connecticut.

By the standards of business and special-interest money, Virginia’s artists and writers don’t exercise a lot of clout in the campaign-contribution arena. Lopsided contributions from this group is more a reflection of how the Left dominates the commanding heights of highbrow culture.


How Politically Skewed is Virginia’s Professoriat?

by James A. Bacon

How thoroughly dominated are America’s institutions of higher education by faculty and staff hewing to the left side of the political spectrum? In a survey of 12,372 professors, finds a new National Association of Scholars study, 48.4% are registered Democrats and 5.7% are registered Republicans. The ratio of Democratic to Republican donors was even more one-sided, about 95 to one.

The study breaks down the ratios for individual universities. Unfortunately, none are Virginia institutions because the Old Dominion is not one of the states that requires voters to register with a political party. So, I did a quick-and-dirty search on the Virginia Public Access Project database to list all public and private university employees who have donated $10,000 or more to either Republicans and/or Democrats over the past 20 years. (If someone wants to plow through the full universe of donors, not just the biggest donors, be my guest. I’ll be happy to publish what you find.)

The results suggest that Virginia higher-ed faculty and staff, though heavily skewed to Democrats, are less lopsided than the colleges and universities covered in the NAS study – a Dem/GOP ratio of only 3.5-to-one by dollars donated, and less than 3 to one in the number of donors. Continue reading

West Virginia Offers to Incorporate Disaffected Virginia Counties

By DJ Rippert

Almost heaven. West Virginia state legislator Gary Howell is spearheading an effort to allow Virginia jurisdictions frustrated by Richmond a chance to join West Virginia. While this might seem like gimmickry, Howell claims that “43 out of 100 West Virginia house members are sponsoring a resolution that would let West Virginia accept some of the largely rural Virginia counties unhappy with how things are being run in Richmond.” More specifically, West Virginia State Senator Charles Trump (no relation, I don’t think) has invited Frederick County, Va., to cross over to the Mountain State. An editorial in the Roanoke Times says Sen. Trump is on “firm legal ground.” A good summary of the matter written by Hoppy Kercheval, dean of West Virginia talk radio, can be found here.

Plantation elite. Before West Virginia’s offer is pushed aside as nonsense, it makes sense to examine some of the history behind such a proposition. After all, as Kercheval points out, western Virginians getting fed up with Richmond-based rule is not exactly a new or unique thought. In my mind, Virginia has long been under the yoke of a minority of Virginians from the plantations of central and southeast Virginia. This “plantation elite” are led by families who claim to be descended from Pocahontas and who further self-define themselves as “the first families of Virginia.” Continue reading

House of Delegates Election Tally: $66.4 Million

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

The final money tally is in, and it looks like more money was spent on House of Delegates elections in 2019 than any election in Virginia history. That was a nearly 42% increase over 2017, which itself was a record, according to data published by the Virginia Public Access Project. Democrats raised $38.2 million in the current election cycle, and Republicans raised $28.6.

Clearly, more money is better than less money when you’re running an election campaign. But having more money is no guarantee of victory. Del. Tim Hugo, D-Centreville, led the pack with $2.1 million, but he lost the election in a blue tide that swept over Northern Virginia.

Judging from anecdotal evidence, I suspect that a lot of the money was wasted. There is only so much spending that a media market can productively absorb. In my senatorial district, a showdown between Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, and Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, In the final days, we were deluged with direct mail pieces. I read the first few, but after a while, the mailers went straight into the trash.

A logical question to ask: Is campaign spending out of control? Should we restrict campaign donations? Continue reading

Northam Comes to the Aid of Menhaden (But is Chap Petersen Paying Attention?)

By Don Rippert

Fish tale. Omega Protein, a Canadian owned company, has willfully exceeded its menhaden catch limit in the Chesapeake Bay. You can read the details here. The catch limit is controversial since menhaden is the only marine fish regulated directly by the Virginia General Assembly. All other saltwater fish in Virginia are regulated by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. Every other Atlantic state lets their state fishery regulator and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) set rules for menhaden in their waters. The US Congress chartered ASMFC in 1942. So, ASMFC sets catch limits for Virginia waters – one for the Atlantic and another for the Chesapeake Bay. In Virginia those limits are then incorporated into proposed legislation for the General Assembly. The most recent AMFC-set limits were put into a bill that was never voted on by the General Assembly. This left Omega Protein with two catch limits – the limit last passed by the General Assembly (based on ASMFC guidance) and the most current lower ASMFC limit. Once Omega Protein admitted it had exceeded the most current ASMFC limit Virginia was reported to the US Department of Commerce as being “out of compliance.” Last week Gov Ralph Northam sent a letter to the Secretary of Commerce requesting the feds to put a moratorium on menhaden fishing in the Virginia waters of the Chesapeake Bay. It seems that Northam is sending the General Assembly a message — clean up your act or I’ll ask the Feds to clean it up for you. But will the new Democratic majority in the General Assembly listen to Northam or Omega Protein?

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Virginia Democrats’ Quid Pro Quo Squabble

Michael Bills

by James A. Bacon

More blue on blue: Hedge-fund manager Michael Bills, the money meister behind Clean Virginia, worked behind the scenes to oppose the elevation of Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax Station, to Speaker of the House. So alleged Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, in an interview on the John Fredericks radio show last week.

“I had heard that they or they representatives had made phone calls to get people to vote against Eileen,” Saslaw said. “You know, quite frankly, you’re getting awfully close to that quid pro quo line when you’re doing stuff like that. I don’t take, nor does our caucus… we don’t take any contributions that come with any conditions. To me, you’re getting into dangerous territory when you accept a deal like that.”

Richard Saslaw

Bills and wife Sonjia Smith spent nearly $2 million in donations that came from them personally or funneled through Clean Virginia to candidates who pledged not to take contributions from Dominion Energy.

The story, if true, suggests that a schism exists between the establishment wing of Virginia’s Democratic Party and the militant environmentalist wing of the party. Militant environmentalists deem Dominion Energy to be a fount of political corruption and, due to the utility’s continued advocacy of natural gas, an impediment to the goal of achieving a 100% renewable electric grid. However, as long as Dominion can patch together a coalition of Republican and pragmatic Democratic lawmakers, it will likely continue to prevail in the General Assembly. Continue reading

What Will Clean Virginia Be Asking For?

By Steve Haner

“Do you actively support efforts to reduce corruption in government?”   

Of course, any candidate presented with that question will reply yes. What do you expect?  “No, I’m quite passive about corruption in government. Live and let live.”

That was one of the softball questions on the Clean Virginia candidate survey form, which will be taking on added significance given the number of Clean Virginia-funded and endorsed candidates who were successful  Tuesday. You can read the full questionnaire here, and potential 2021 candidates are advised to print it out and start a file on coming roll call votes.  Continue reading

Wealthy Greenies Dump Millions into Virginia Elections

Virginia after the climate apocalypse… or after a green energy policy?

by Hans Bader

You may not be following Virginia’s legislative elections, which will occur on November 5. But liberal billionaires across the country are. They are spending millions to help progressives take control of the Virginia legislature.

The Washington Post reports that heaps of money are flowing into Virginia political campaigns ahead of the election.

As John Massoud notes, Charlottesville hedge-fund manager Michael Bills and his wife Sonjia Smith have injected $3 million in donations to Democratic candidates. He says this is to elect a legislature that enacts California-style alternative-energy rules. Such rules enrich investors in alternative-energy schemes by requiring utilities (and their customers) to pay for them. Massoud argues that such schemes are not “able to power a modern day economy. If allowed to have their way, we will soon be having the same blackouts that California is having.” PBS reports that 1.5 million people lost power in the latest round of California blackouts.

A group called Beyond Carbon, funded by a liberal out-of-state billionaire, is spending $335,000 this week alone on TV ads to defeat a single Republican member of the House of Delegates, Del. Chris Stolle, R-Virginia Beach. On first glance, Stolle may seem like an odd choice as a target, given that he backed legislation to mitigate the effects of climate change, making him a relative moderate in the state legislature. Continue reading

The Radioactive Donors In 2019? Healthcare

Money (And Hypocrisy) In Politics

By Steve Haner

The following is one of my “revise and extend” follow-up posts, this one adding detail to an exploration of the raging attacks on Republican efforts to offer alternative health insurance plans.  You can read the original post on the Jefferson Policy Journal.    

Not many months ago, it was a safe bet that by late October the campaign attack ads would focus on utility contributions. There is still time for that to appear. Dominion Energy clearly expected that, as evidenced by a full page, very defensive advertisement in Wednesday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. Then there is its most cloying television ad yet.

You’ve seen it, of course – the lovely young lady whose Daddy is a deployed Dominion employee. Instead of wearing a U.S. Army or Blue Star cap, she sleeps and poses for school pictures in his Dominion Energy hat. Now, how could a company engendering that kind of love and loyalty be misbehaving?

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