Virginia Ranks 43rd in Index Evaluating State Campaign Finance and Transparency Laws

Virginia ranks 43 — in the bottom ten — in the 2022 State Campaign Finance Index, which ranks the 50 states plus Washington, D.C., based on state laws around campaign finance and funding transparency for state legislative and executive races.

“How these races are financed and how much transparency is required are key to curbing the influence of money in our political system and enhancing trust that politicians are not representing only wealthy special interests. A state’s score does not necessarily mean its politicians are more or less corrupt than another, but it does reflect the willingness of the state’s politicians to favor special interests and lessen the appearance that politicians are beholden to donors who write the biggest checks,” the Coalition for Integrity said in a June 21 press release announcing the results.

Virginia earned 55.48 percent out of a possible 100 percent; Washington took first place with 83.99 percent.

The index is based on 10 principles, including the presence of an independent agency with wide power to enforce campaign finance laws; meaningful sanctions if there are violations; contribution limits to campaigns and parties; bans on contributions from unions and corporations; comprehensive disclosure of independent expenditures; and easily accessible campaign finance data on a state agency website.

In Virginia, the Department of Elections oversees campaign finance law, but according to the index scoring chart, the agency doesn’t have power to conduct its own investigations, hold public hearings, issue subpoenas, issue sanctions, only partial ability to issue late filing fines, and no ability to issue other fines.

Virginia does properly protect its oversight officials from removal without cause.

The Commonwealth performed poorly on questions about campaign finance contribution limits — it’s one of only five states that have no contribution limits.

“As financing political campaigns remains the best way to buy influence in policy decisions, the amount spent dramatically increases from year to year. In the 2020 election cycle, contributions to gubernatorial and state legislative candidates set new records with contributions nearing $1.9 billion, up from nearly $1.6 billion in the 2016 race. The trend continued in 2021. In Virginia, which has no limits on campaign contributions, the candidates for Governor raised over $130 million – Terry McAuliffe (D) received just over $54.2 million in contributions, while Glen Youngkin (R) received roughly $65.7 million,” the report states.

On transparency, Virginia earns mediocre scores. Contributors to independent spenders must be reported, but not the owners or funders of LLCs or 501(c) nonprofits that contribute to independent spenders. Virginia earned full marks on disclosure of advertisers. Virginia does allow reports to be filed online with the Department of Elections, but they’re not easily available on the DOE website. Instead, Virginians rely on the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project to provide that data.

Virginia has a poor reputation on campaign finance law.

Former Governor Bob McDonnell was convicted of corruption-related charges in 2014, although the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that in a 2016 decision.

“Is Virginia Americas Most Corrupt State?” conservative blog Bacon’s Rebellion asked in 2014.

In 2016, the AP reviewed Virginia campaign donations and expenditures and found that politicians are spending donated funds on fancy restaurants, hotels, and personal bills, with some appearing to use campaign finances as personal income.

“Virginia Is for Corruption,” The Cato Institute reported in 2019.

In 2021, the Democratic-controlled Senate blocked passage of a law to largely ban personal use of campaign funds. In 2022, a Republican-controlled House committee killed a similar bill, and the General Assembly instead opted to continue a campaign finance reform study committee begun in 2021.

Senator John Bell (D-Loudoun) sponsored the 2022 bill, based on the study committee’s work in 2021.

Bell told a House Privileges and Elections subcommittee in March, “Over the years, I know we’ve had many bills in this subject area, frankly, by members of both parties. This is a really tough area to go into, I want to just say to the committee as we get into it. And we took the bill that started off, we heard testimony, and we worked with stakeholders again and worked with members of both parties, and we dialed the bill back in a few areas.”

“This isn’t a perfect bill. It doesn’t hit every area of campaign finance. It’s a start. I think if we tried to do a perfect bill, we’re going to end up with more problems than we want,” he said.

Delegate Margaret Ransone (R-Westmoreland) told Bell, “I’ve heard you say a couple of times, this is a start, this is a beginning. I personally am uncomfortable putting something in code that’s a start.”

“Putting something in code that’s not perfect, that’s not just right, I feel like is wrong. We established a work group. My understanding is that the work group never came to a consensus together collectively on legislation and voted collectively as a majority,” she said.

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].

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Year-End Campaign Fundraising Haul for Virginia’s Statewide Candidates Shows McAuliffe Far Ahead, Followed by Foy

With Virginia’s statewide elections for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general drawing ever closer, candidates’ campaign finance reports literally show who has been busy fundraising, but can also offer an early glimpse of their viability in the races. 

On Saturday, year-end fundraising reports, covering the second half of last year from July 1st to December 31st, for each statewide candidate were released to the public. The Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) compiled the numbers and listed the cash on hand for each candidate.

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Retired Judges Select Eight Citizens to Serve on Virginia Redistricting Commission

A selection committee of five retired judges on Wednesday chose the eight citizens who will serve on the Virginia Redistricting Commission, completing the membership determination process for the newly-implemented body tasked with proposing plans for redrawing the Commonwealth’s 111 congressional and legislative districts.

The judges met for several hours on Wednesday morning and had to come up with the eight names from a pool of 62 finalists.

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Legislative Leaders Pick Citizen Finalists for Virginia Redistricting Commission

The four legislative leaders of the House of Delegates and state Senate picked 62 citizen finalists last Friday to be considered for eight available spots on Virginia’s new redistricting commission.

House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) and Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) were responsible for making lists of 16 citizens out of more than 1,200 applicants. 

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Candi King and Angelia Williams Graves Win Special Elections for Virginia House Seats

Democratic candidates Candi King and Angelia Williams Graves emerged victorious Tuesday night from special elections for the 2nd and 90th Districts of the Virginia House of Delegates, defeating Republican underdogs Heather Mitchell and Sylvia Bryant.

In the 2nd District, which encompasses the eastern edge of Prince William County along the Potomac River and the northern section of Stafford County, King narrowly won by receiving 51.50 percent (4,386) of the total votes compared to 48.41 percent (4,123) for Mitchell, according to election results tabulated by the Virginia Department of Elections.

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Candi King Faces Heather Mitchell in Special Election for Virginia House 2nd District Today

Election day for the Virginia House of Delegates 2nd District race has finally arrived and the winner will fill the vacant seat left by Jennifer Carroll Foy before the General Assembly begins its next session on January 13th.

Community activist Candi King (D) and military wife Heather Mitchell (R) are vying for a seat that could play a role in keeping a Democratic majority in the House or assist Republicans in their efforts to flip the legislative body in 2021.

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More Than 1,200 Citizens Apply for Virginia Redistricting Commission

The application window for citizens to apply for the Virginia Redistricting Commission closed on Monday and a final tally from the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) showed that 1,238 Virginians are interested in serving on the extremely important and influential panel.

Just two weeks ago, however, only 88 citizens had applied for the commission since November 30 and Virginia Division of Legislative Services (DLS) Director Amigo Wade said they received 600-650 applications during the final days before the deadline.

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Candi King Wins Democratic Nomination for Virginia’s 2nd House District, Will Face Republican Mitchell in Special Election

Community leader Candi King won the Democratic nomination for the Virginia House of Delegates 2nd District on Sunday and will square off against GOP nominee Heather Mitchell in the January 5 special election.

King, who lives in Prince William County with her family, defeated four other candidates – Pamela Montgomery, Keisha Francis, Nyesha Wilson and Rozia Henson – in the firehouse primary, securing 380 out of 867 votes or 43.83 percent, according to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP).

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Breakdown of Citizen Applicants for Virginia Redistricting Commission

The application window to become one of eight citizen members on the new Virginia Redistricting Commission has reached the halfway point and a demographic breakdown of applicants to date from the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) reveals some interesting trends.

VPAP’s visual breakdown of applicants’ demographic makeup features things like race, gender, age, party affiliation and more.

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Franklin County Board of Supervisors Vote to Keep Courthouse Confederate Statue

The Confederate soldier statue outside the Franklin County courthouse in the small town of Rocky Mount will not be moved after the county’s board of supervisors unanimously voted to keep the monument in its current location during a monthly meeting Tuesday.

The motion was put forth by Boone District Supervisor Ronnie Thompson and seconded by Tommy Cundiff, Union Hall District Supervisor.

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Congressional Candidate Freitas Says Seventh District Election Results Probably Will Not Change

Republican Congressional Candidate Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) said in a statement published to his Facebook page Thursday that the results of Virginia’s 7th District race, which saw Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) win re-election, will probably not change.

In the week following the general elections and Spanberger’s declaration of victory, Freitas and his campaign have been publicly quiet while reviewing post-election canvasses and ensuring that every legal vote cast is counted, according to the statement.

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Spanberger Declares Victory in Seventh Congressional District, Freitas to Wait for Final Results Before Conceding Race

Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) declared victory Wednesday night over Republican challenger and state Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, after further early voting counts gave her a 5,132-vote lead.

Spanberger took the lead after Spotsylvania County reported its final absentee ballots and Henrico County tallied additional absentee votes, which officials overlooked because the ballots had been saved on a mislabeled flash drive, according to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP).

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Republican Bob Good Defeats Democratic Opponent Cameron Webb in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District

Republican candidate Bob Good beat Democratic opponent Cameron Webb by a margin of 5.5 percentage points on election night, securing Virginia’s 5th Congressional District seat and ushering in conservative representation for another two years.

Good received 52.6 percent (209,711) of the votes compared to Webb’s 47.1 percent (187,954), according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project.

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UPDATE: Freitas Clings to a 1,000 Vote Lead over Spanberger; 69,000 Potential Mail Ballots Outstanding

Despite State Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) holding a steady lead on Election night over incumbent Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-05), a winner has not been declared for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District as over 220,00 early votes still need to be counted in several key counties.

Freitas held a 20-point advantage as of 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning, accumulating 60.6 percent of votes so far (143,899) compared to Spanberger’s 39.4 percent (93,573), according to data from the Associated Press.

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Follow the Money: Where Big Dollars Are Flowing for Virginia Congressional Candidates

As the 2020 election season comes to an end and Virginia’s congressional candidates are making their last pushes to secure a better chance at winning, millions of dollars have already been poured into races by political action committees (PAC) and other organizations looking to influence the elections one way or another. 

Those types of campaign funds are known as independent expenditures, meaning money that is spent without the coordination of a campaign or candidate and often result in attack ads primarily seen on social media or TV. 

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