Seventy-eight percent of Virginians didn’t get what they wanted from Richmond last week: campaign finance reform. The state of Virginia, with its lax campaign finance laws, came tantalizingly close to passing three common sense good governance bills which had earlier cleared the Senate, but the House of Delegates voted down all three on March 2, killed in a subcommittee of the Elections and Privileges committee. Two of these bills, SB222 and SB318, introduced respectively by Senators McPike and Favola, would strengthen Virginia’s campaign finance disclosure laws, protecting legislators from obscure attack ads and allowing voters to know who is funding candidates. Delegates O'Quinn (R-5), Bloxom, Williams, Taylor, and Wachsmann voted to indefinitely pass by SB222, killing it; Delegates Mark Sickles (D-43), Candi King (D-2), and Michelle Maldonado (D-50) tried to keep it alive.
A third bill, SB 463, introduced by Senator John Bell, restricting personal use of campaign funds by candidates running for office, died in Committee with the same vote along party lines, 5-3.
Public testimony wasn’t allowed on this bill, but Nancy Morgan, Coordinator of the Virginia Chapter of American Promise, a non-partisan group advocating for campaign finance reform, noted that the bill voted down by the Committee was, in fact, an extensively-debated product of the tax-payer funded bicameral, bipartisan Committee which met over the August-October period last year. She added, “Delegate O’Quinn, chairman of the Sub-Committee which killed the bill, was a member of that taxpayer-funded Committee process.”
It’s not over until it’s over. Two key campaign finance bills will be heard on the Senate floor this week.
It’s not just the GOP voting down reform: Seven Democrats voted against Del. Tim Anderson's (R-83) disclosure bill (HB86) in the Finance Committee on Friday, with some reversing their vote from the Senate P&E vote on Tuesday which was 15-0. It managed to pass 8-7 nonetheless. Senator Edwards (D-21) has consistently voted "no" to all campaign finance bills in the Finance Committee. The Democrats who voted to support reform in the Finance Committee were Senators Ebbin (D-30), Deeds (D-25), Barker (D-39), and Peterson (D-34).
The Democrats who voted "no" in the Finance Committee were: Senators Lucas (D-18), Locke (D-2), Marsden (D-37), Howell (D-32), Saslaw (D-35), and Mcclellan (D-9). Again, bipartisan support had been present: these four Republicans voted "yes" on Anderson's bill: Senators Norment (R-3), Hanger (R-24), Newman (R-23), and Ruff (R-15). The Anderson bill passed the House 99-1 and the Anderson and Bulova bills passed out of the P & E Committee 15-0.
Despite being revised extensively by the Senate this year, Privileges and Elections Chairwoman Margaret Ransone (R-99), who voted last year for a similar bill, said the bill needs to be reviewed by the Joint Sub-Committee on Campaign Finance Reform. Heidi Drauschak, Executive Director of VAOurWay, reflected on that statement, highlighting that Virginia is one of only a few states which has no limits on the personal use of campaign contributions, adding that this is the sixth year that this bill has been introduced. She further revealed that last year, an almost identical bill passed the House of Delegates, 100-0.
Nancy Morgan is the same Arlington resident who, at the beginning of the session, optimistically expressed the opinion that campaign finance reform stood its best chance of success this year, with bipartisan support and a clear mandate from Virginians that unregulated campaign spending was out of hand. With only four campaign finance bills currently in play, down from the 24 originally introduced into the Virginia General Assembly, it’s clear that Virginians were the losers in a battle to clean up politics. Campaign finance reform isn’t a priority for some legislators who like the loose environment and the power of the purse strings.Morgan and her team believe the phone messages, emails, and written statements made in favor of campaign finance reform are important if the remaining legislation is to be kept alive. For guidance on contacting legislators, see: https://vmop.org/