Read All About It: The Virginia Way

Former Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling

In his defense, you must realize that Bill Bolling is not a lawyer, so he couldn’t do what some lawyer-legislators do at the end of their careers and become a judge.  With the Virginia Retirement System’s pensions based on the highest salary period, you must top out as governor or attorney general or a cabinet member or judge, something with a real salary if you want that monthly thank-you-for-life from the taxpayers to have any zeroes on it.

It was just a few hours ago I was in a conversation saying that arrogance was the sin that sank the Democrat legislative majorities in Virginia and would soon prove fatal for the Republicans.  I can think of no more potent example of arrogance and entitlement-thinking than the Richmond Times-Dispatch account of how former legislator and lieutenant governor Bolling found his way to a six-figure salary at James Madison University.

As the lede paragraph makes clear, that VRS pension amount was front and center in the discussions.

Perhaps he is a great teacher, but no adjunct is getting paid $140,000 plus housing.  Bolling is the school’s lobbyist, pure and simple, a political adviser to the president and the leadership.  He’s there to curry favor with the money committees in Richmond on behalf of the school.  Combined the state schools spend outrageous sums on government-to-government lobbying efforts, but perhaps this example will focus a spotlight.  That salary may not be out of line at all with what other schools are paying their lobbying staff.

The best part of the story, in my mind, is the phone call from former U.S. Attorney Richard Cullen, now head of the shadow government run out of McGuireWoods down on Richmond’s Main Street.  I’m glad reporter Patrick Wilson quoted him at length.  Yep, no story here, no need to raise any ethical questions about how this all came about.

Long ago I often smiled and said that the meanest thing I ever did to a politician was quote him or her accurately.   Read the story.  Speaking as a public relations guy, myself, what were they thinking? Who do they think they are kidding?

Maybe it is legal for a well-connected former legislator, while sitting on a university board, to negotiate for himself a fat sinecure to start just after his service.  I’m sure all the people who have spent long careers in education earning far less, and all the parents and students struggling to finance their payments to JMU, see absolutely no problem.  Former Newport News legislator Phil Hamilton, still in federal prison for arranging a university job for himself through his budget machinations, will be the first to say this situation is totally different.

Then again, maybe not.

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16 responses to “Read All About It: The Virginia Way

  1. Is it true these guys make 17K as legislators?

  2. Hello! I am new to the discussions on this blog, although I have been a fan for several years. Now that I am retired from my state government position, I feel free to air my views more publicly.
    Personally, I am disappointed in Bill Bolling. I had admired him in the past, but, his cashing in on his former positions leaves a lot to be desired, especially under the circumstances described.
    He is not the first former legislator hired by JMU to represent it. Pete Giesen had this role several years ago, but his was a part-time position and I am sure that he did not get anywhere near the salary (or the retirement benefits) that Bolling is getting.
    Steve is right about the schools spending a lot on government relations. Many of the schools’ lobbyists have an extensive background in state government, but not that of a former legislator and lieutenant governor. Betsey Daley, former staff director of the Senate Finance Committee, now representing UVa., probably had the highest profile. (Of course, there is W&M’s arrangement with Tommy Norment, but he is not an official lobbyist. The school has a formal state government relations official.) UVa. and GMU have offices in Richmond. It might have been cheaper for JMU to do that for Bolling, rather than provide subsidized housing.

    • Welcome! With your insight and experience, you have much to add. Pete, as far as I know, was/is teaching, really teaching, nothing more. And that’s wonderful. And at this point I think Norment is teaching, as well. His role might have been more involved earlier. G2G lobbying is an entire industry adding a major layer of cost, something that would dismay taxpayers if they understood it.

  3. Yep. Welcome Dick and PLEASE offer your insight and views!

    I think I could argue this the other way fairly easily.

    First, having someone teaching a course on government – who actually has had significant experience – has to be valuable to both College and the students.

    Second, as an outright advisor and surrogate lobbyist – again – he could probably help benefit then in a lot of different and myriad ways to include more than just money alone.

    Third – at 17K even with per-diem and health care – I wonder how ANY of these guys make it work because during the months the GA is doing work – beyond the actual session dates – assuming these guys have regular jobs – what exactly are they doing in their regular jobs during GA ? I know two that were in public education and apparently had a very liberal leave policy. I know another who is an insurance agent and another who is actually a deputy county administrator!

    If we don’t want full-time professional legislators and we leave it up to them to decide how to deal with their personal finance needs in that kind of context – what should we expect and what kind of rules?

    I would posit that right now – that job is essentially not open to average folks with regular jobs… and so who we have in Richmond is not really representative of most ordinary people and add on to that the money from corporate and business influence groups that apparently can be spent on personal use –

    I would just see what Bolling did as not that unusual and the man would be irresponsible not to look after his needs when he gets older and cannot work.

    In some respects, Virginia, despite its loosey-goosey ethic rules has escaped being viewed as corrupt on the level of some other states.

    But on the other hand, voters in Va don’t seem to care, it’s never been a big election issue and we do seem to not care that they are not paid well and we leave it up to them to exploit whatever loopholes are available – which are many.

    At this point – I’d not condemn Bolling nor JMU… He brings valuable expertise to them and from their point of view – he’s worth every penny for their needs.

    Heckfire – according to SCOTUS – he could be taking Roylex watches and clothes for his wife and still be within Virginia’s laws!

  4. Hilarious, Larry. The one time you should be mocking so-called conservatives, you take a pass. You think this is great because you also recognize it as highly self-destructive to that brand, a clear sign that McDonnell’s ordeal taught them nothing, that there is no real distinction between the parties when boodle is within range. Another new vocabulary word: cupidity.

    • I had no clue you were thinking this is a GOP thing… and to be honest – I don’t see it as any more or less destructive to either party in Virginia…

      I actually do believe the way we compensate legislators and require their commitment intensively at SOME parts of the year – leaving it up to them how they will actually make a living the rest of the year – I think that is part and parcel of the problem and it affects all elected Conservative or Liberal.

      In THAT CONTEXT – we basically motivate and incentivize these folks looking for “other” money AND we have almost no rules about it – so when you say it is “destructive” to a “brand”.. to “that” brand – I just am flummoxed.

      I know that I likely have a very different perspective on this than you do -given your experience and role but I would posit that my view of it is probably much less an inside-baseball view and much more representative of most average voters.

      With legislators – we owe them – a reasonable way to make a living without having them resort to whatever nefarious means they can exploit – we owe that to both parties.

      Am I coming across and different or more clearly now or are we still miles apart?

  5. The admittedly quaint notion you are missing is this is supposedly a citizen legislature, not a professional one. Members are supposed to have other jobs, by design, and bring that real-world experience to bear. This is not supposed to be “a living” but it has become one. It most assuredly was never intended to be a path to a comfortable retirement income, but we have allowed that to happen as well. As the story reports, Mr. Bolling has plenty of other sources of income, and carefully arranged to keep it flowing. Is he behaving worse than others? No, not at all. Are they all equally out for the main chance? Also not at all.

    • Oh I understand the logic but if in insisting on that – you also create a corrupt institution – you’ve failed.

      You can’t make excuses here by claiming good intentions if at the end – the whole premise ends up with a majority of “citizen legislators” are all gaming the rules anyhow!

      What you’ve accomplished is basically a system to corrupt would-be citizen legislators.

  6. As I recall, former Delegate Bob Brink (D-ARL-FFX) resigned his seat in the GA to take a job with the McAuliffe administration and to pump his pension. If this is a bona fide job and a good job is done, I don’t see it as evil. Now if we’d like to pass a law prohibiting any senator or delegate, constitutional officer or any appointed position requiring GA confirmation from lobbying for 5 years, I’m on board.

    • I actually think that lobbyists are valuable – they DO educate – as well as other not-so-honorable things that the law and loopholes allow so it’s not the lobbying per se that is bad… I actually want legislators to know the good, bad and ugly – from both/all sides before they decide because that’s actually one of the downsides of a “citizen” legislator.

      But the other bigger problem is that many occupations today – do not lend themselves to abandoning that work for 2-3 months a year. So you get folks who are not work-a-day types but instead people already wealthy or part of a family-run business, etc.. In reality – you’re actually NOT getting a truly representative citizen legislator but rather a distorted one.

      So what we need is a law that says an elected receives a GOOD salary as well as is guaranteed to keep his other job like we see for military service or similar.

      THEN you get a real and genuine citizen legislature – and in that context, lobbying becomes critical in education them AND basically, you take away some of the incentives for money. AND then once you actually do have a REAL citizen legislature – we outlaw outside money altogether

      We charge lobbyists a substantial fee to be able to lobby – and the money goes into one big fund that is then used to pay the citizen legislators – with no connections at all to where the money came from originally.

      AND .. I want to see folks in the GA that are NOT GOP nor DEM.. but truly independent. The two parties have perverted governance. These so-called “citizen” legislators have more allegiance to the parties than who elected them and they play these games of pretending to meet and listen to voters but when the time comes for the vote – it’s by party…. not issue or constituency.

      • If you want a consumer group, a real one that is well recognized, in Virginia, they have to be able to lobby. Already, the costs of that are difficult to juggle by part time volunteers. Adding the costs you suggest would make it prohibitive.

  7. Yes, Larry, the citizen legislature concept was easier to live up to when the GA only met every other year (not that long ago), and the number of committee, commission and other meetings in between was greatly reduced. Work expands to fill the time allotted.

    And yes, TMT, such a cooling-off period would have made this Bolling situation seem far more plausible.

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