The Strings On The Money Revealed

Money In Politics

And now, from our You Can’t Make This Stuff Up Department, come two Richmond lobbyists providing strong evidence that the money really does have strings and you only get it if you play along.  We had no idea, right?

First, see the story on Blue Virginia, with newly-elected Del. Dawn Adams, D-Henrico, sharing a recent email response from a representative of Verizon. In response to a solicitation to attend her lobbyist shakedown soiree the Verizon employee said nope, she didn’t vote for a bill we wanted so no money. Most of us around the Capitol have a very good idea who would write that. But it is only a guess.

Second, read in this morning’s Times-Dispatch about a recent message from legal mega-firm Hunton Andrews Kurth (formerly Hunton & Williams) to any legislator who declines a campaign contribution from its client Appalachian Power. If you refuse to accept APCO money, the firm will refuse to send you money from its own accounts.

The head of the government affairs team, former legislator Whitt Clement, was quite open about it but added: “This matter has not been thoroughly vetted in view of our other clients. So I think it is safe to say that we will continue to evaluate our position.” Given that this story hit the T-D website yesterday afternoon, it may be that policy has already been dumped. That isn’t going to help their other clients and potentially does them harm.

Years ago one of Clement’s colleagues in that firm advised me on what not to say in written or even spoken communications with legislators on behalf of my then-employer. I guess that advice was only for external consumption. Or perhaps the new Texas partners have brought a new tone to Richmond’s Main Street.

The business entities most subject to state regulation are logically among the largest state donors. High on that list would be the public service corporations, the public utilities and transportation companies. Clearly it is a threat to their influence if a subset of legislators refuses to take their money and makes it an issue, pressuring their peers to follow suit.

There can be a good case made for refusing public service corporation money. If the legislators are going to take that stand it needs to be consistent. If you decline APCO money you should decline Hunton Andrews Kurth money. There is no difference between Verizon and Dominion except that Verizon no longer enjoys a monopoly. It is still providing a necessity and is thus regulated, and it does come to the General Assembly seeking to set rules for the regulators or to give it advantages. The purity of the stance is also eroded by the acceptance of money from a party or caucus committee being funded heavily by regulated entities. (Just as the high-and-mighty stance by the law firm is also just a posture if it continues to support the parties.)

The bottom line is all the money, including money from people on any side of various issues, is intended to influence the process and usually does. Rather than everybody pontificating about what money is evil and what money is clean, it is time to start the conversation in Virginia about placing some reasonable limits on the amount of money any candidate or party committee can take from any person or corporation. Limit the money, limit the influence.

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11 responses to “The Strings On The Money Revealed”

  1. djrippert Avatar

    If you study what is going on in Virginia long enough, this is the inescapable conclusion …

    “Rather than everybody pontificating about what money is evil and what money is clean it is time to start the conversation in Virginia about placing some reasonable limits on the amount of money any candidate or party committee can take from any person or corporation. Limit the money, limit the influence.”

    Well written Steve.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Tap on the Bacon’s Rebellion “Money in Politics” tag and the string of recent stories is rather impressive. More to come, I’m sure. I’m just warming up.

      1. djrippert Avatar

        Limiting campaign contributions and forcing proper disclosure of how campaign contributions are spent needs to become a litmus test for the 2019 General Assembly elections.

        Yes or No: Do you support limiting campaign contributions in Virginia and, if so, will you work to pass laws limiting those contributions?

        Yes or No: Do you support limiting the use of campaign contributions to paying for legitimate campaign expenses along with full, timely and detailed reporting of those expenditures? If so, will you support passing laws that implement these changes?

        Show me a Virginia version of Bernie Sanders who says “yes” to both of these questions and I’ll vote for him or her over the second coming of Ronald Reagan who says “no” to these questions.

  2. Excellent article. I’m going to reproduce this for local pols too.

  3. CrazyJD Avatar

    I will respectfully disagree with the direction of these posts.

    My answer is “no” to both of Don’s questions.

    Money is speech in this context, hell in most contexts. If I recall correctly, the Supreme Court has said so. Would it be different for you guys if Verizon had said, “We are no longer going to encourage that army of folks who work for us to go out and support you since you didn’t support us. ?

    If I’m Verizon, why should I pony up money for someone who doesn’t support what I want. Admittedly, this is a difficult question, one that is not susceptible to a “simple” bill to limit contributions. Our former governor had to go all the way to the Supremes before his “conviction” was overturned….wait for it… UNANIMOUSLY. Name the last case (not a bankrupty case or an anti-trust case) where the court decided something at least partially controversial by a unanimous vote. That would be….Brown v. Board in the 50’s?

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Common misunderstanding. Citizens United vs FEC did not affect campaign contributions. Campaign contributions are heavily regulated at the federal level (for federal candidates) and by 46 states. The Court’s decision struck down a provision of the McCain-Feingold Act that banned for-profit and not-for-profit corporations and unions from broadcasting electioneering communications in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general elections. The decision upheld, however, the requirements for disclaimer and disclosure by sponsors of advertisements, and the ban on direct contributions from corporations or unions to candidates.

      Virginia can limit or ban campaign contributions all day and night long.

  4. I’m with Steve Haner here and not CJD. The simple reason: anybody who elects the regulators of the public utilities in Virginia (the Commissioners of the SCC) should not also accept contributions from the regulatees. Direct conflict of interest.

    Yes I know it’s currently legal to make these donations. Yes, you can make the case that the legislature is not the judiciary and it’s SCC “judges” we are electing, here, just like all the other judges around the State who judge ordinary cases involving ordinary citizens and we sure don’t forbid contributions to the GA from ordinary citizens. But, it’s not right, it’s unseemly, and too close to unethical for my comfort, for the public utilities in Virginia to make payments directly to the electors of their regulating agency. Let Dominion confine its “free speech” to platoons of lobbyists and reams of information, but not direct payments to the legislators themselves.

    Moreover, with the GA having inserted itself into direct utility regulation the way it has in the past couple of decades, these payments are no longer made to electors of the regulators but to the regulators themselves! That is far worse, in my opinion. Whitt Clement is a nice guy, but defending this status quo means holding one’s nose. It’s the Richmond show; have at ’em, DJR.

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I would say yes to both of Don’s questions.

    I fully understand the stances taken by both Verizon and the law firm, and only question the wisdom of putting it out there publicly to confirm everybody’s suspicions about the process. Suspicions which in my observation get more and more true as the amounts rise. Donors (corporate or individual) have a total right not to donate for whatever reason. And in answer to your question above, a company mad at a legislator could indeed take concrete steps to support another candidate in hopes that candidate would be more friendly. Don’t expect the incumbent to take it lying down or make nice if the effort fails!

    I just think some limits, say $1000 per donor per election cycle for a member of the House of Delegates, would create less of an opportunity for that donor to feel “entitled” or the legislator to feel pressured. In the federal system most big donors just max out quickly to most incumbents; they can’t be asked for any more.

    And you are not of the opinion that the Supreme Court said that what McDonnell did was just peachy, and others should go forth and do likewise, are you? I think Roberts was clear on that. (And had the guy been writing campaign contribution checks there might not have been a case, but these goodies were personal gain.)

    1. What the Supreme Court decided re McDonnell was the scope of the phrase “official act” in the federal bribery statute. It did not decide any other question of federal statutory or constitutional law. It did not decide what contributions the federal constitution allows the State of Virginia to proscribe under some future State law. It did not decide what, regardless of federal or State law, was unseemly or politically unwise — although Roberts hinted at what he thought.

      So, what should be proscribed? It was suggested earlier that campaign contributions by public utilities to G.A. members could not be restricted on free speech grounds. Even if that were true as a general matter — a principle that neither “Citizens United” nor any other federal case actually stands for, to my knowledge — I believe a utility’s right to make political contributions can be regulated just like its rates and services and finances and affiliate relations and service territory, for the same reasons. It’s part of the regulatory bargain: monopoly in exchange for restrictions. In this case that doesn’t mean the utility can have no voice; it simply means it cannot pay-off the very people who regulate it.

      1. djrippert Avatar

        The Commonwealth of Virginia can regulate campaign contributions to whatever extent it chooses. It can join 46 other states and the federal government in putting the breaks on various forms of campaign contributions. The ruling in Citizens United v FEC specifically called out the McCain-Feingold Act’s ban on corporate and union contributions as constitutional.

        Absolutely nothing prevents Virginia from much tighter regulation of what campaign contributions can be used for. Our current laws (or, more accurately, lack of laws) is rivaled only by Mississippi for the depth of legalized corruption it allows. Disgraceful.

        The McDonnell case was a repudiation of the Honest Services law as enacted by Congress. The court basically found that the definition of “official act” was ill-defined and arbitrary. They further found that the trial judge in the McDonnell case issues instructions to the jury that would have made virtually any act by Governor McDonnell a violation of the Honest Services law. They did not define proper behavior for a governor or other elected official.

        The answer for cleaning up Virginia will come from Richmond not from Washington, DC.

        I found the BlueVirginia article reference by Steve Haner in his “Strings Attached” column fascinating. I disagree with the majority of opinions expressed on BlueVirginia. However, I could not be in more agreement with their sense of outrage at the depth to which special interests buy Virginia’s state government. While it is a long-shot I believe there is some possibility that a concerted effort by Virginia media outlets and blogs could put enough focus on the legalized corruption that is rampant in Virginia to make it a major issue in the 2019 elections.

  6. […] law and lobbying firm, is off to a slow start, giving only $23,000 on this report.  The firm drew notice for saying it would not support legislators who refused donations from its utility client.  Its […]

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