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.

2021 – Democrats’ and Senate’s turn.  Democrats, who changed every other law they wished in 2020 and 2021, did not change that one.

In 2021 they considered HB 1952 Campaign finance; prohibited personal use.  

It added a listof items that were not a violation of campaign law.  It directed the Attorney General to issue an advisory opinion explaining the provisions of the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act of 2006 that prohibit the personal use of campaign funds.

HB 1952 passed the House 100-0.

In Special Session 1, it was recommitted to Senate Privileges and Elections without a record vote. It was left there.

2023 – Republicans’ and House’s turn. This year Senate Democrats, with a Republican governor and House of Delegates, brought forward SB 1471 Campaign finance; prohibited personal use of campaign funds. It passed the Senate 38-0.

It included lists of both things that campaign funds could be used for and things that they cannot.  The list of items that those funds are prohibited to be used for included, but were not limited to:

“1. A home mortgage, rent, or utility payment;
2. A non-campaign-related automobile expense;
3. A country club membership;
4. A vacation or other non-campaign-related trip;
5. A tuition payment;
6. Admission to a sporting event, concert, theater, or other form of entertainment not associated with election campaign; or
7. Dues, fees, and other payments to a health club or recreational facility.”

When crossed over to the House, it was assigned to Subcommittee 2 of Privileges and Elections.

It was tabled by the vote of the five Republicans on that subcommittee, two of whom had voted in favor of HB 1952 in 2021.

Bottom line. Who knew the General Assembly was capable of that kind of bipartisan orchestration?

It is perhaps the ugliest game played there. Amidst tough competition.

I would name all of the names, and readers can find them in the links above, but it clearly does not matter. General Assembly members, with undeniable coordination among the leadership of both parties in both houses, continue to legalize their own corruption.

Let’s see.

An unlimited campaign donation is converted to a new kitchen. Not even Illinois allows that, at least officially.

Why not just cut out the campaign middle man? Save a lot of paperwork.

I hold the leadership of both parties accountable. I am embarrassed for all of us.

Virginia in its public laws on campaign finance is a third world country.

Updated April 4 at 8:07 AM