Virginia’s Dark Money Legal Machine

Sen. Jill Vogel

When the deep-pocketed corporate backers of “Doctor Patient Unity” set up their dark money entity, they registered the partnership in Virginia. The State Corporation Commission filing listed the partnership’s registered agent as North Rock Reports, LLC, in Warrenton.

North Rock, reports the New York Times in an article about Doctor Patient Unity’s $28 million advertising campaign to influence Congress on legislation affecting surprise medical billing (see previous post), is common to more than 150 other political action groups. North Rock’s name surfaced a couple of years ago in news reports about “Protect America’s Consumers,” a group that attacked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a creation of the Obama administration criticized by conservatives for engaging in regulatory overkill. The LLC also has ties to the Republican National Committee, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

It turns out that North Rock Reports LLC has its own SCC registration filing, and North Rock’s registered agent is Jason Torchinsky, who, coincidentally enough, listed the very same business address as North Rock — 45 North Hill Dr., Suite 100, Warrenton — and is a partner of the Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky PLLC law firm at the same address. The “Holzman Vogel” in the firm refers to founding partner Jill Holtzman Vogel, a state senator from Winchester and Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.

Vogel’s law firm biography states the following: “In addition to managing the firm, Jill specializes in ethics, campaign finance law, and tax-exempt organizations.” Her Wikipedia profile says this: “Vogel specializes in laws relating to charitable and nonprofit organizations, as well as campaign finance and ethics.”

A 2017 Richmond Times-Dispatch article adds this:

Vogel often describes herself on the campaign stump as “an ethics attorney.”

What her law firm specializes in, however, includes helping dark money nonprofits establish themselves and spend money in politics from anonymous donors.

“The bottom line is, somebody hires my firm to make absolutely sure that they do not get in trouble,” Vogel said in an interview this spring. When asked about groups that have criticized her firm, she said, “There’s always the other side who doesn’t like your group.”

Bacon’s bottom line: None of this is to say that Vogel has done anything unethical. Indeed, in 2018 she co-sponsored SB592, a bill that would have prohibited the conversion of money or assets contributed to a political campaign to the personal use by the candidate, members of his/her family or intimate partner. Although the ethics bill failed, the measure was a worthy one that should be enacted. However, it is difficult to imagine Vogel ever sponsoring legislation bringing sunlight to the flow of dark money through the political system — a reform that would undermine her law firm’s business model.

The number that floors me is the New York Times‘ assertion that North Rock Reports is associated with 150 registered entities. That’s a whole lot of dark money.

Of course, while Vogel stands at the center of a GOP/business dark money network, Democrats have their own networks. The main difference is that Democrats have so much dark money, much of it devoted to liberal and progressive advocacy, that they have done a better job of exposing Republican connections and tarring Republicans with the dark money label. The Democrats also have a direct pipeline to the New York Times, Washington Post, and other mainstream-medial publications that thrive on portraying Republicans as the party of special interests and mysterious billionaires.

There is plenty of sleaze to go around. The system reflects poorly on Democrats, Republicans, corporate interests, and advocacy groups alike. We need more transparency for all.

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4 responses to “Virginia’s Dark Money Legal Machine

  1. “There is plenty of sleaze to go around. The system reflects poorly on Democrats, Republicans, corporate interests, and advocacy groups alike.”

    That is for sure. The problem is that there is a flip side to public transparency. Given the modern tools at hand, a relative few in power can easily overrun and destroy the right of privacy. And once government and media power is concentrated in a few hands, we all too easily can be converted into a one party police state. We are moving rapidly there now. Perhaps now we are only an election away from the beginnings of a police state, given the statements of many presidential contenders, and their ideological true believer followers.

  2. Think about what you wrote, Jim:

    “Indeed, in 2018 she co-sponsored SB592, a bill that would have prohibited the conversion of money or assets contributed to a political campaign to the personal use by the candidate, members of his/her family or intimate partner. Although the ethics bill failed, the measure was a worthy one that should be enacted.”

    So, we have unlimited campaign contributions from anybody to anybody. Candidates who run unopposed in election after election routinely receive “campaign contributions”.

    A bill that would have prevented Virginia state politicians from using the unlimited campaign contributions for personal use was not enacted. There are numerous examples of Virginia politicians doing just that – using campaign contributions for personal expenses.

    Now, what part of “bribery” can’t Virginia’s plantation class understand? It may be legal bribery in Virginia but it is bribery nonetheless.

    Lots of other states used to be as corrupt as Virginia. Illinois was one. But they capped campaign contributions in 2009. The examples go on and on. State after state has cleaned up its act. Not Virginia. Just as corrupt today as it was during the Byrd Machine.

    Virginia is BY FAR America’s most corrupt state.

  3. We got more than one issue here. One if whether or not it’s legal, ethical, for the donor or the recipient to be not known. The second is how much money. The third is who can spend it on what purpose.

    The point has been made over and over in BR that money is “fungible” and it clearly is and that makes the rules a swiss-cheese farce.

    And remember Citizens United said that Corporate money is “free speech” and if they can spend more money than there are citizens votes, it’s fine and dandy. Corporate “free speech” trumps citizens who vote.

    • The Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court held that advertising about issues was a matter of free speech. It did not overturn campaign contribution limits nor did it allow politicians to spend their campaign contributions on personal expenses.

      A corollary question running through my mind is why the members of The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond don’t pay income taxes on the ill gotten gains they receive under the guise of campaign contributions. Virginia law prohibits gifts of over $100 so these payments cannot be gifts. The monies are spent on personal expenses so they cannot be actual campaign contributions. Let’s be honest – these are funds tendered for services rendered or for services to be rendered. As such, they are income and subject to taxation.

      I need to find the IRS tax cheat hotline and report this tax evasion. After all, it was the IRS rather than the FBI who finally put Al Capone behind bars. And I suspect that nothing will do more to enhance Virginia’s political ethics than a couple of dozen General Assembly members appearing on the nightly news in orange jumpsuits.

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