RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia House Republicans rejected proposals to ban state lawmakers from using campaign money on personal expenses, a longtime effort with bipartisan support that continues to fail.
Virginia allows lawmakers and candidates to spend campaign donations on expenses such as dinners, hotels and other personal uses. An Associated Press review from 2016 found that legislators have used the funds on country club memberships, gas and phone bills.
The commonwealth’s lax campaign finance laws — including no contribution limits for political action committees, corporations or individuals donating to candidates — have led some lawmakers to pursue several failed efforts to rein in the rules.
A GOP-controlled House of Delegates subcommittee voted down two bills to prohibit personal spending of campaign funds from Republican Del. Mike Cherry (Colonial Heights) and Democrat Del. Marcus Simon (Fairfax), who presented their similar proposals alongside each other on Wednesday.
“Forty-eight, I think, or 49 other states have already figured out a way to prohibit the personal use of campaign funds,” Del. Simon said when introducing his bill. “I think none of us think it’s okay, hopefully, to take money right out of our campaign till and use it for ourselves and spend it on ourselves.”
Del. Simon acknowledged that his latest effort needed to be “bipartisan and bicameral,” telling the panel his legislation was not a “gotcha” measure to call out Republicans.
“I do think it’s important that we send this message to the people that are donating to our campaigns that we take it very seriously that the money is for our campaigns and not ourselves,” Del. Cherry told the panel Wednesday.
Del. Wren Williams (R-Patrick) asked whether Simon and Cherry had evidence of any the misuse of political donations. They both said they did not bring any but that evidence was available.
Del. Robert Bloxom Jr. (R-Accomack) pointed out that expenditures of campaign donations are accessible online. Simon noted that Virginia doesn’t have authority to audit the expenditures disclosed by lawmakers and candidates, adding that entries can be vague and limit transparency.
“For instance, you can put $50, Amazon, right? Because you put $50 on your credit card, and it was paid to Amazon and that’s all the information,” Simon said. “And that satisfies our reporting requirements in Virginia but it doesn’t give you any insight on what item that was actually spent for.”
Simon told the Republican-led subcommittee he understood “the politics around here” so he decided to be a co-chief patron on Del. Cherry’s legislation and said he had no issues if they wanted to kill his proposal and move forward with Cherry’s.
After a motion to advance the bills from Democrats on the panel, a substitute motion to lay them on the table, which effectively kills the legislation, was proposed by Del. Williams.
“I would suggest that donors need to not donate to the people they don’t trust. And I’d also suggest they don’t vote for them and therefore I move to lay those on the table,” Williams said before the panel voted along party lines to reject both bills.
A similar bill received unanimous support in a Virginia Senate committee, but Wednesday’s votes suggest the effort appears doomed.