VCC Spring 2021

V irginia C apitol C onnections , S pring 2021 20 Virginians and their elected Delegates and Senators have been talking about campaign finance reform for years, and produced very little reform. While we tout the fact that all campaign contributions must be reported and that those reports are made public, we have completely ignored a crucial element of this reporting system: 1. Are the finance reports audited for accuracy and compliance with state law? 2. How can we be certain that any of the items listed on the submitted report are correct? 3. Or honestly reported? Unfortunately the answer is that in Virginia, there is no evaluation of the accuracy of the contents of a campaign finance report by any commission, committee, government official or department.We do not require any substantiating documents or receipts which might prove that the source of the contribution or the alleged expenditure is honestly reported, and also in compliance with state law. I repeat, there is no oversight of the contents of a campaign finance report.We require only that the reports be filed by the established deadline according to the published schedule. In Virginia we rely on the honesty of our candidates for elected office to report every contribution and every expense accurately, and to spend only campaign funds on legally allowed campaign expenses. In other words, we rely upon the integrity of candidates seeking elected office to be meticulous, lawful and honest in all campaign finance reporting matters without any enforcement mechanism. Virginia is the exception, rather than the rule, in our nation. Some folks allege that we haven't had any illegal campaign reporting except the scandal of Governor McDonnell's blatant acceptance of outrageous gifts from lobbyists. I counter by asking, how do we know that this was the only instance? The answer to this question: we don't. I know that under the Republican majority, the Department of Elections has been financially starved. I know that a single Department staff member is now handling responsibilities that 10 years ago were shouldered by two, three, or even four employees. How can we expect overworked and underpaid staff, no matter how dedicated and experienced, to evaluate each report for accuracy? We cannot. I know that the Department of Elections software is old and inadequate, and subject to failure and (until this year) no consideration was given by the General Assembly to funding an updated, reliable system. In the years that I served in the House of Delegates under the Republican majority, I talked to legislators about making our finance reporting system more rigorous. All the discussions were ended by the observation that any solution would be too expensive. In response, I began searching for a cheap method of verifying the accuracy of campaign finance reports, i.e. auditing the reports without spending a noticeable amount of money. I thought that the threat of a random audit might be a viable solution.When the HOD Republican majority barely held on to power. In 2019, I decided to draft such a bill. In discussing the draft with Legislative Services, I asked a question I always ask when requesting a draft, has this been tried before? I was surprised to learn that the answer was "yes". It seems that when the Democrats became the majority many years ago, this bill was one of the first bills filed by a member of the newly-minority Republican caucus. Spoiler alert: the bill failed on a party-line vote. I filed the bill and presented it before a Republican-dominated Finance Committee Subcommittee. In my presentation I relayed the bill's history, thinking it was poetic justice that the Delegate who had originally filed the bill was chairing that Subcommittee. I admit that I was surprised when, without any discussion, the bill was voted down on party lines. In the following year, 2020, I filed the same bill with different expectations because the Democrats held the majority. To my surprise, the bill was continued to 2021 by voice vote in a subcommittee of the Privileges and Elections Committee. "Continued" is essentially a polite, kind way of killing a bill. I am not discouraged enough to stop trying. I will file HB1707 aka HB71 again in the upcoming session. This year, I chief copatroned a campaign finance reform bill, HB 1952 that contained a reform that is very important to me and that I had tried to pass in an earlier year: allowing child care expenses as a legal campaign expense. HB1952 declared that " it is unlawful for any person to convert any monies, securities or like tangible properties contributed to a candidate or a candidate's campaign committee to his personal use ", and specifically stated that child care expenses incurred as a result of campaign activity are allowed. HB1952 passed the HOD easily, but failed in the Senate when presented as a Senate Substitute that achieved the same goal, but with greater detail. The fact that the bill passed out of Committee to the HOD floor and passed the floor vote only to fail in the Senate is a telling journey. The People's House has finally agreed that campaign finance reform is a pressing need; but the People's Senate did not agree. Not only did the Senate kill the bill, neither body tackled my main concern: auditing campaign finance reports. Virginia must enact serious campaign finance reforms. In this time of little trust of government and of politicians, those elected to govern Virginia must acknowledge the justified skepticism voters voice. We must invest in a fully-staffed Department of Elections with reliable and effective software. We are national leaders with our recent successful legislative reforms; now we must declare campaign finance reform our next example of our bold leadership. Delegate Kaye Kory is a Democrat serving the 38th District, which includes part of Fairfax County. Campaign Reform By Delegate Kaye Kory This edition includes contact information for candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and the House of Delegates. The wide distribution among elected officials and others interested in Virginia politics makes this the best place to include your copy. Contact for more information. 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