With former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen facing what could be decades in prison after their convictions for corruption, a reasonable person might reasonably expect that members of the General Assembly would be gearing up to make some big changes.
Under Virginia law, there was no barrier to the McDonnells taking tens of thousands of dollars in gifts from a single donor in search of help.
In addition to the gifts, the tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to campaign funds were not part of the corruption trial, but they were certainly part of seeking influence.
Virginia needs real change, but there is silence from members of the General Assembly on any real change.
It turns out that unlimited contributions and gifts is not good for government, not good for the public, especially not good for elected officials as the recent news demonstrates. It would be better for most businesses to have limits as well so as not to be subject to the expectation of making huge donations.
The National Conference of State Legislatures www.ncsl.org summarizes how the 50 states regulate contributions: “States commonly place limits on contributions to candidates from various sources, and also on contributions to political action committees (PACs) and political parties. Just four states — Missouri, Oregon, Utah and Virginia — place no limits on contributions at all. Another seven states — Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas — have minimal contribution limits. These states limit or prohibit contributions by corporations and unions to candidates, but leave contributions from all other sources unlimited. In the remaining 39 states, contributions to candidates from individuals, political parties, PACs, corporations and unions are typically limited or, in the case of corporations and unions, prohibited outright.”
In Maryland, individuals can give $4,000 to any one candidate and $10,000 total, cumulatively to all candidates in a four-year election cycle. (These limits increase to $6,000 and $24,000 in 2015.) In Maryland, corporations and CEOs are not giving $100,000 and more in an election cycle.
Do we really want to be a state where the rules are so lax, that what barely raises an eyebrow here can send a former governor and his wife to prison for a long time?
The silence is bipartisan. The silence unites NoVa (Northern Virginia) and RoVa (the rest of Virginia). Every incumbent in Virginia thinks they are benefiting from the ability to collect so much cash. They all know that they would not engage in the kind unseemly behavior that was recently on display in the McDonnell trial. They seem to think that the McDonnells were just an aberration.
Having our legislative process, locally and at the state level, awash in cash and gifts from people with business before the legislative bodies is not good for any of us.
It’s time for some real limits and some disclosure requirements with teeth.