Category Archives: Public corruption

Maybe We Can Sue

by James C. Sherlock

Updated August 30, 3:30 pm

I wrote yesterday about a House of Delegates bill that ultimately was passed by the House Committee for Courts of Justice as House Bill No. 5074 Amendment In the Nature of A Substitute (the bill).  

I wrote of its effects on public officials and owners and managers of private companies for violations of COVID-19 regulations. The bill makes them not just accountable to state and federal regulators, but also personally civilly liable for the slightest violation of any part of the virtually unclimbable wall of applicable regulations. And Virginia has the strictest COVID-19 occupational safety regulations in the nation.

This essay will discuss the ethics of two different original bills and reveal the secretive process by which the final substitute was developed in committee. It will ask the General Assembly to clean up a scandal of its own making.

Some may say this “goes on all the time.” It may, but that does not mean it should.

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Elmer Gantry In Lynchburg

Jerry Falwell, Jr., and wife Becki

By Peter Galuszka

The resignation of Jerry Falwell Jr. amid a series of scandals may have a strong impact in Virginia where his late father built an extraordinary, ultra-conservative evangelical university in Lynchburg that later became highly politicized lightning rod supporting President Donald Trump.

Falwell has been caught up in a number of controversies including limiting speech on campus, going after The New York Times for trespassing when it reported he insisted that student ignore wearing anti-viral pandemic masks and so on.

What happened with Falwell Jr is as  an American story as apple pie topped with a Cross. It might have some straight out of the pages of Elmer Gantry.

After touting strict school policies that forbid students from drinking alcohol, watching “R”-rated movies or engaging in pre-marital sex, Falwell was pictured aboard a NASCAR mogul’s yacht half dressed with a semi-clad, pregnant woman who was said to be his wife Becki’s assistant. Falwell was holding a wine glass with a liquid in it but Falwell said it wasn’t wine.

Shortly afterwards, he gave an interview to the right-leaning Washington Examiner stating that his wife had been involved with a multi-year sexual affair with Giancarlo Granda, a former Miami Beach pool boy whom Falwell funded to set up a hostel business. Continue reading

Stoney Didn’t Comply with State Procurement Rules Either

No Department of General Services records that the City of Richmond filed documentation of the statue-removal contract with the state.

by James A. Bacon

The defense of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s awarding of a $1.8 million statue-removal contract to a campaign supporter — that he followed state emergency procurement law, even if he didn’t abide by the City of Richmond’s law — has no basis in fact.

Stoney’s defenders have argued that the public health and safety were at stake when protesters were trying to tear down the statues, and the Mayor had to act decisively. Stoney executed the contract in compliance with state law that permits the local director of emergency management to forgo “time-consuming procedures or formalities” when awarding contracts during an emergency, Betty Burrell, the city’s director of procurement, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch two days ago.

“Were it possible to pursue a traditional procurement, the mayor would have done so, but circumstances required him to pursue a different legal avenue,” said the mayor’s spokesman Jim Nolan. “This decision was fully within his authority, and he stands by it.”

There’s just one problem with this line of argument: Stoney did not comply with state procurement law. The law does not give local officials a blank check; it requires them to leave a public record of their actions. Continue reading

Systemic Racism? What’s That?

By Peter Galuszka

At Bacon’s Rebellion there’s a constant, grating mantra debunking the concept that the U.S. has a serious problem with “Institutional” or “Systemic” Racism.

Slavery? Jim Crow? Irrelevant! We’re treated to commentary after commentary that Blacks just need to try harder. They are lazy. They do not support family values. They get too much wasted money in school spending and health care. Their constant abuse by law enforcement is imaginary. Black Lives Matters is a hateful, racist movement. BLM jeopardizes our values. Students interested in the movement were not “indoctrinated” enough. It’s bad enough if it comes up in public schools, but let BLM come up at a toney private institution in a wealthy, mostly White suburb, then it is a blood libel against every private school headmaster in the country.

For a partial list of blog postings with ideas, please see the URLs at the end of this column.

Ok. So what? Well, this morning I saw a small story in The Washington Post that shocked me since it went right to the heart of Institutional and/or Systemic Racism. If you still don’t believe it exists, read on. Continue reading

Attorney General Herring’s Legislative Package

by James C. Sherlock

The Virginia Constitution (Article V, Section 5) assigns the Governor legislative duties. He is the only member of the Executive Department assigned such duties. The Attorney General has, well … none.

Of the duties of the Attorney General (Article V, Section 15), the Virginia Constitutions says only: “He shall perform such duties … as may be prescribed by law.”

The Attorney General heads the Office of the Attorney General, also referred to as the Department of Law. Under the laws of Virginia, primary duties of the Attorney General include:

  • Provide legal advice and representation in court for the Governor and the state in general and to members of the Virginia General Assembly and local government officials;
  • Defend the state in cases or criminal appeals and suits filed against the state;
  • Prosecute significant crimes; and
  • Defend the constitutionality of state laws.

Those duties illustrate why the Attorney General was not given legislative responsibilities in the Constitution.

It is impossible for him to both advocate for or against laws and be seen to be faithfully executing his duties. Virginians will always wonder whether such an advocate will fairly execute the laws or fairly advise the Governor and General Assembly. Continue reading

The Return of the “Cooch”

By Peter Galuszka

Early this past Wednesday morning, Mark Pettibone and Connor O’Shead were walking on their way home after a peaceful protest in Portland, Ore.

Suddenly an unmarked van pulled in front of them. Men wearing green uniforms, tactical gear and generic signs reading “POLICE” hustled them into the vehicle. They were not told why they were being detained. After 90 minutes, the badly shaken men were released without being charged.

The episode might sound like the activities of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his “little green men” who have shown up in places like Crimea and Eastern Ukraine to intimidate and detain people.

But this was Portland, a progressive city that has seen protests for weeks. President Donald Trump has urged federal authorities to move in on cities to restore his sense of order even though city officials in Portland do not want his help and are investigating what is going on.

And, guess who is playing a role in what could be a growing national trend of federal law enforcement performing “snatch and grabs” of innocent protestors?

That would be Kenneth Cuccinelli, the former hard right, state attorney general and failed gubernatorial candidate. He is now acting deputy secretary of the Trump’s Department of Homeland Security. Continue reading

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

By Peter Galuszka

Back in the winter of 2015, Craig Vanderhoef, a former Navy captain, got a disturbing surprise in his mailbox at his retirement home near Afton in Nelson County. A letter from Dominion Resources noted that it wanted to survey his land for a new 600-mile-long natural gas pipeline.

On two occasions, he wrote the utility telling them no. Then he got another surprise. A sheriff’s deputy knocked on his door to serve him with papers notifying him that Dominion was suing him to get access to his property.

In short order, about 240 Virginia landowners were on notice that they too might be sued for Dominion’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The county sheriff was notified that he, too, was being sued, although it was an error.

Thus, the stage was set for one of the nastiest environmental and property rights battles in Old Dominion history.

It centered around the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that would run from Harrison County, W.Va. across the rugged Appalachians, down through some of the most peacefully bucolic land in the Virginia., to Union Hill, a mostly African-American community in Buckingham county and on into North Carolina, running through the Tar Heel state’s mostly African-American concentration along its northeastern border with Virginia. Continue reading

Gunning Up Virginia’s Cops

By Peter Galuszka

 In 2014, the Sheriff’s Department of York County and Poquoson got their very own tank-like vehicle, called a “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP).”

Fully armored and tan in color with steep sides, it looks like something out television footage of the war in Iraq where U.S. troops needed to get through mine-infested streets and terrain safely.

But why do such generally sleepy communities such as these need a high-powered armored car? Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Digs told The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press that it isn’t meant to “intimidate people” but can be useful during adverse weather when trees are down. Really? Wouldn’t a pickup truck work?

The newspaper story is important since it combs through what Virginia law enforcement got after the “1033”Defense Department program started to sell surplus military gear to local law enforcement in 1997.

It notes that military surplus sales in Virginia went from $216,000 in 1999 to $853,824 in 2019, according to Defense Logistics Agency statistics. The latter number included the cost of another MRAP so Virginia Beach could get its very own armored truck. Over time, the City of Portsmouth got 87 M-16 assault rifles. Other goodies include night vision glasses. Continue reading

The Real Danger with ANTIFA

By Peter Galuszka

Get ready. The names of all kinds of leftist organizations are going to be kicked around as the masterminds behind violent, cop-beating looters, especially the so-called ANTIFA movement in Virginia and across the country..

But what is reality? I don’t have clear answers but I have some ideas to share since I have been dealing with activist groups since I was in high school in the late 1960s. I hope they help this blog’s discussion.

First, there’s plenty of research available about ANTIFA and there are already plenty of reports about it. It is not a single group but a very loose collection of autonomous activist groups, most of which do not advocate violence. For reference, see yesterday’s Daily Beast piece with the blunt headline, “Trump’s ‘ANTIFA Threat Is Total Bullshit – And Totally Dangerous.”

That article and plenty of others note that ANTIFA, or whatever it is, has no clear chain of command and uses ultra-fast social media to alert other activists about rallies and protests but has no control over them. If you are thinking about the tightly-controlled and secretive Communist cells of the past century, you are not getting it. Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Corruption Allegations Mar Fairfax County Board Race

Supervisor Jeff McKay, photo credit – WAMU

I’m shocked, shocked to find that there’s gambling going on here. Long time residents of Fairfax County will hardly be shocked to hear the news of a Fairfax County Supervisor being accused of unsavory business dealings with a land developer. Jeff McKay has been Lee District supervisor since 2007. He is currently vying for the top spot in Fairfax County – chair of the board. McKay, who faces opposition from three Democrats and one Republican for the office, has been accused of trading a political favor for a personal real-estate deal. As befitting the county which is home to the CIA, those allegations were surfaced through a lengthy anonymous legal memo circulated to the county attorney and the other members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. American University radio station WAMU broke the story yesterday.

To be very clear, these are allegations which may be true, partly true or (as McKay represents) a wholly untrue political attack. Supervisor McKay deserves to be considered innocent until proven otherwise.

Continue reading

Barbara Favola Makes Disingenuous Statements about Dominion Funding

A clarification has been added to the end of this article.

Setup. Barbara Favola is the Democratic State Senator from Virginia’s 31st district.  That district is centered in Arlington but includes areas of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties as well.  Favola is a politician-for-life having served on the Arlington County Board from 1997 through 2012 and in the Virginia State Senate since then.  She is seeking to extend her 22 consecutive years in politics to 26 in the upcoming General Assembly election.  However, Sen Favola’s well laid plans hit a snag.  She will face a challenger named Nicole Merlene in the June 11 Democratic primary.  Ms. Merlene has astutely called Sen Favola’s ethics and independence into question based on Favola’s non-legislative position as the head of a lobbying organization representing clients in Richmond.  An article in ggwash summarized a debate between Favola and Merlene:

“In her opening statement, Merlene referred to a December 2016 proposal to build a 325-foot tall tower on Virginia Department of Transportation land in Rosslyn. Favola, the sitting state senator for the district, was an advisor for the project.

Merlene said this type of behavior was pervasive, citing her opponent’s relationship with Marymount University and Virginia Hospital Center, which are both clients of a lobbying organization that Favola leads when she is not working in Richmond.“This is an issue where our representative was using public office for private benefit,” she said.”

Favola responded by employing what has become known as “the Saslaw – Norment defense” which holds that no amount of money from any source could ever be corrupting based on the genetic honesty of long time Virginia politicians. Continue reading

Virginia Voters Should “Clean House” this November

State of affairs / affairs of state.  Multiple scandals have rocked Virginia’s state government this week.  All three of our state’s top officials stand accused of substantial wrongdoing.  Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have admitted to dressing in blackface during their college / medical school days. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is being accused of sexual assault.  The stories have become national news – read the New York Post article here. Given this chaos one wonders how the good people at Amazon feel about their decision to put one-half of their new headquarters in The Commonwealth of Virginia. I’m guessing we’ll hear more about that in the near future. In the meantime, Virginians need to ask two key questions – how did we get here and what can we do about it.   Continue reading

Va 2019 General Assembly session – prefiled House of Delegates bills

Click here to see the 9 weird laws

Much ado about nothing.  As of this morning there were 83 prefiled bills for the House of Delegates and 225 prefiled bills for the State Senate.  With a few exceptions the House prefiles are pretty “ho hum”.  I will examine the Senate prefiles in a subsequent column.

One from column A and two from column B.  I use a somewhat arbitrary approach to categorizing the prefiled bills.  By my analysis … governmental process (17), education (12), crime and courts (10), election reform (8), finance and taxes (7), health care (6), nonsense (6), environment (6), transportation (4), campaign reform (4) and energy (2).

Governmental process.  These are the day to day clarifications, corrections and amplifications needed to make existing legislation more effective.  For example, HB246 clarifies the role of the code commission in preparing legislation at the direction of the General Assembly.  One of these bills will further depress Jim Bacon’s journalistic sensibilities.  HB1629 eliminates the requirement that Virginia procurement contracts be reported in newspapers.  Mixed in with the proposed routine legislation are some zingers.  For example, there are three separate bills to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (HJ577, HJ579, HJ583).  There are also four bills proposing changes  to the Virginia Constitution.  HJ578 would add a right to vote to the state constitution, HJ582 would establish a redistricting committee, HJ584 would allow the governor to run for a second consecutive term and HJ585 has the governor and lieutenant governor running as a single ticket instead of separate offices.

Education.  The only theme in the education prefiles is an attempt to provide financial incentives for localities to rebuild the physical plant of their schools.  One of the more interesting bills would allow commercial advertising on school buses (HB809) while another would guarantee that our children’s God given right to wear unscented sun block not be abridged (HB330).

Crime and courts.  Bail bondsmen and bondswomen are forbidden from having sex with their clients (HB525) and shooting a police dog, or even showing a gun to a police dog,  becomes a more serious crime (HB1616).  Other than that, pretty mundane stuff.

Finance and taxes.  Way too many people and too many companies are paying taxes (HB966) and veterinarians really need a break from those pesky sales taxes (HB747).

Potpourri.  The remaining categories contain a few interesting ideas.  Del Rasoul wants to ban the use of fossil fuels in electricity generation (HB1635), Del Cole wants to give I95 some love (HJ580, HJ581) and he also has the radical idea that campaign contributions should not be for personal use (HB1617).  In fact, Del Cole’s proposed legislation is putting him perilously close to making my very short list of competent Virginia legislators.

Closer to home.  My delegate, Kathleen Murphy, continues to propose jaw dropping, eye popping examples of legislative uselessness.  She proposes to let her pals skirt Virginia traffic laws by displaying a special sticker on their cars (HB295) and offers some odd rules on distance learning reciprocity (HB659).  I guess issues like mass transportation don’t cross her mind these days.

— Don Rippert.

Legalized Medical and Recreational Marijuana Use Appear to Hurt Alcohol Sales

High times.  In a recent Bacon’s Rebellion column … Will Virginia Legalize Recreational Marijuana Use … I noted that well over 20% of Americans now live in states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  In the column I wondered whether our General Assembly’s reluctance to address the question in a meaningful way might be attributable to Virginia’s unholy trinity of political corruption:

  1. Unlimited campaign contributions
  2. Opposition by well heeled vested interests (i.e., the alcohol manufacturing, distribution and retail industry)
  3. Essentially non-existent rules on the use of, or reporting on, campaign contributions

My hypothesis was that a river of money flows from Virginia’s alcohol industry into the pockets of our elected officials.  The alcohol industry is opposed to legalizing marijuana since legalization hurts alcohol sales.  Meanwhile, our elected officials want to keep the money flow going since it funds not only their re-election plans but also dinners at Bookbinders, golf outings, private clubs and all sorts of other goodies.  Therefore, legalization of marijuana is intentionally stalled in Virginia.  Virginia’s reputation as America’s Most Corrupt State is, in my opinion, well established.  However, the question of whether legalized marijuana use hurts alcohol sales needs to be further examined.

Paging Doctor Weed.  The best information about the impact of marijuana legalization on alcohol sales comes from studies of medical marijuana legalization.  Medical marijuana has been legalized for longer and in more states than recreational marijuana.  Some would say that medical marijuana is a poor proxy for recreational marijuana because medical marijuana is only used to combat disease and therefore is not a substitute for booze.  Yeah, right.  A university study using retail scanner data from 2006 – 2015 found that alcohol sales fell 15% in jurisdictions that legalized medical marijuana.  For the sake of emphasis – this was a study of legal medical marijuana on alcohol sales, not legalized recreational use of marijuana.

The Oregon Trail.  The relationship between legalized recreational marijuana and liquor sales has been studied in Oregon.  In that state, recreational marijuana use is legal at the state level but localities have the right to ban it in their jurisdictions.  A study comparing Oregon localities that allow marijuana sales vs those that don’t found the growth rate of liquor sales for the “booze only” places was faster than in the “booze and reef” areas.  Early days.  Only one year of data.

Miller Time.  A 10-K disclosure by the Molson-Coors company cites legalized cannabis sales as a potential risk to their business. “Although the ultimate impact is currently unknown, the emergence of legal cannabis in certain U.S. states and Canada may result in a shift of discretionary income away from our products or a change in consumer preferences away from beer. As a result, a shift in consumer preferences away from our products or beer or a decline in the consumption of our products could result in a material adverse effect on our business and financial results.”  Four months after citing the business risks of legalized marijuana Molson-Coors announced they are considering the sale of ganja infused beer in Canada.

Rocky Mountain High.  Earlier this year the Aspen Times reported that Aspen’s legal marijuana dispensaries outsold its liquor stores in 2017.  As far as anyone knows, this is the first time such a shift has happened.  I’ll wager it will be far from the last time.

— Don Rippert