April 22, 2024
Finance

Campaign finance reform is long overdue in Virginia – The Virginian-Pilot


As the dust settles on Virginia’s 2023 legislative elections, we should reflect on two major issues with the commonwealth’s campaign finance rules. First, Virginia has no campaign contribution limits, leading to an ever-increasing trend of just how much money is spent on our elections. The second is perhaps more unsettling. There are no restrictions on how campaign funds are spent, including the use of campaign funds for personal expenses.

The sheer scale of spending in the 2023 elections highlights the urgency for the coming General Assembly to pass laws that limit the amount of money in Virginia politics.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project and a November report from the Associated Press, the 2023 campaigns for the House of Delegates and state Senate together raised more than $158 million combined. This is a nearly 31% jump from four years ago ($121 million), and an astonishing 110% increase from the legislative elections of 2011 ($75 million).

The adoption of reasonable limits on contributions from individuals, corporations, political action committees and political party committees is long overdue.

Last year, then-Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg introduced a bill that would cap individual limits to $40,000 to candidates for governor or to party committees, $30,000 to candidates for state Senate, and $20,000 to candidates for the House of Delegates or a PAC. This bill did not make it out of its subcommittee. It is my hope that a bill like this is reintroduced and finds more success in 2024.

Secondly, it makes no sense that Virginia doesn’t restrict how candidates spend campaign funds, unlike federal campaigns and campaigns in 47 other states. This means that candidates for office in Virginia are free to use campaign dollars (with no contribution limits) to take a personal vacation, for example.

Bills in both chambers introduced by members of both parties to address this issue — Dels. Mike Cherry and Marcus Simon, and Sen. Jennifer Boysko, respectively — also failed to get to the governor’s desk last year.

The fate of these bills is obviously disappointing, especially when considering what voters think of Virginia’s campaign finance laws — or lack thereof. A 2021 poll conducted by Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center showed that an overwhelming majority of the Virginia electorate supports these common sense measures to regulate spending in our elections.

Seventy-five percent of those surveyed said they “supported creating contribution limits” — with a majority of voters in both parties supporting these measures. Further, another strong majority — 73% — of those polled said that they supported “restricting personal use of campaign funds.” This public support indicates that the General Assembly should back these key campaign finance reform measures which failed last year.

These two measures can help. And there is still further progress to make. In 2020, the nonpartisan Coalition for Integrity scored all 50 states on the laws governing ethics and transparency around contributions and expenditures. It was called the States With Anti-Corruption Measures for Public Officials (SWAMP) Index. Virginia landed 46th on the SWAMP Index, with the study citing our lack of regulations to prevent conflicts of interest and rules to punish officials who break what laws are already in place. We should continue to explore additional common sense changes to our campaign finance rules to improve our standing in this Index.

The 2023 election can serve as a catalyst, prompting elected officials in Virginia to make positive changes to the commonwealth’s campaign finance rules.

Harrison Roday is an experienced business leader based in Richmond and the founder of Bridging Virginia, a nonprofit community development loan fund providing access to capital for Black-, women- and minority-owned small businesses.



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