Office of State Inspector General Investigating $268,000 Virginia Tourism Contract with Youngkin-Favored Ad Agency


The Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) is investigating a contract for a $268,000 Virginia Tourism Authority (VTA) ad featuring Governor Glenn Youngkin made by Poolhouse, a firm used heavily by Youngkin. Democratic leaders in the General Assembly requested the investigation in a letter earlier in October, hinting that through the contract, Youngkin may have used tax funds to buy the equivalent of a campaign ad.

“The chosen vendor has no history of working with the state or the VTA,” Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) and House Minority Leader Don Scott (D-Portsmouth) wrote in the letter obtained by The Richmond Times-Dispatch. The Authority has never featured a Governor in advertising of this type in prior campaigns. It is wellknown that the Governor is conducting a preliminary campaign for the Republican Nomination for President and has opened two federal campaign accounts Spirit of Virginia’ and ‘America’s Spirit’ to support his activities and federal candidates in anticipation of his Presidential run and such an ad would confer taxpayer benefits on him while he builds his name identification and familiarity with persons outside of Virginia in anticipation of his run.”

The two leaders included a lengthy list of questions to Inspector General Michael Westfall exploring the procurement process for the ad.

The actions by Governor Youngkin and the VTC are deeply concerning and raise serious questions about the use of state tax dollars for campaign purposes and potential waste, fraud or abuse of taxpayer dollars. For all these reasons we are calling on the Office of the Inspector General to immediately investigate this matter in order to answer these and any other questions,” they wrote.

This week, OSIG said it will undertake the investigation.

After determining that certain allegations made about VTA are in its jurisdiction, OSIG is conducting a Hotline administrative investigation into whether VTA followed the appropriate procurement laws and policies, and whether there was any waste of government funds,” OSIG Communications Director Kate Hourin told The Virginia Star.

“Please note that OSIG will not be looking into every question the legislators put forth in their letter to OSIG because they are not in its jurisdiction and, therefore, not appropriate for OSIG to address. I do not have a timeline for you,” she said.

Youngkin’s spokesperson declined to comment, but VTA shared a lengthy statement from Virginia Tourism Corporation (another name for VTA) President Rita McClenny. She said the ad is a “Welcome to Virginia” ad being shown in Virginia welcome centers and nine commercial airports, including Dulles International Airport. A goal of the ad was to welcome Dulles travelers, who may assume they are in Washington, D.C., to Virginia and “establish a sense of place.” She emphasized the need for the ad, saying Virginia’s tourism industry is only at 87 percent of pre-pandemic spending.

We were extremely proud that Governor Youngkin was willing to lend his time and support to the tourism industry,” McClenny said.

She also defended the Poolhouse contract.

VTC routinely works with outside production vendors to produce video projects like this one. We selected Poolhouse for this project because they are a local, talented, Virginia-based company that has done exceptional work for other corporate clients from Anheuser-Busch to Honda to GE. They were able to commit to a quick timeline in order to deliver a product during our busy summer and fall travel seasons. We are immensely proud of the final product, which beautifully showcases Virginia experiences and provides a warm welcome to travelers entering the state via our Welcome Centers and all commercial airports. This video will only be shown to travelers in Virginia, and has no paid media behind it.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Michael Westfall” by Office of the State Inspector General. Background Photo “Virginia State Capitol” by Martin Kraft. CC BY-SA 3.0.

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