Public Comments for 09/17/2021 Joint Subcommittee to Study Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform
Good afternoon, My names is Zeina Hutchison and I’m an advocate for the VA Chapter of American Promise. The money coming into our 2021 elections highlight the need for our Commonwealth to take action to regulate election spending and improve regulatory oversight. As you know, we were ranked 46 out of 50 in the S.W.A.M.P. Index, which is pulled together by the Coalition for Integrity, because of deficiencies in accountability and transparency. The Virginia General Assembly and this committee, in the name of good governance, has the responsibility to put in place common sense campaign finance laws which protect the integrity of our political system, help legislators spend less time fund-raising, and build trust among citizens. It is clear from previous analysis that the State Board of Elections has no regulatory oversight function. Rules need to be established which allow them to conduct investigations, issue administrative subpoenas, take action on complaints related to campaign finance violations, undertake audits and initiate civil action to enforce campaign finance laws. In order to do this, the legislature needs to provide a budget for increased staffing and IT support. The committee needs to be reminded that Shruti Shah, President of the Coalition for Integrity, a national expert on campaign finance, highlighted in her written comments to the August 23rd meeting that “Our initial conclusion is that once again Virginia will score near the bottom in most of these areas. Virginia has no limits on campaign contributions, no state-wide database of campaign finance reports that can be easily searched and sorted and no disclosure requirements for internet-based advertising and reporting of contributors to independent spenders”. In addition, due to the aforementioned as well as the unlimited, exorbitant and unregulated cost of running for office, as well as the monopolized nature of campaigns and the process as a whole, only a select few with the financial means and with certain ties/connection can run for office and remain in office. Highlighting this issue is of particular importance to me not only as a minority - an immigrant woman of color - but also as a proud Virginian. Our legislature should be a true representation of the people of the commonwealth. It is incumbent on this committee to ensure that we do better. We can and we must. Zeina Hutchison Zeinaa@gmail.com
We support legislation to ban the use of campaign donations for personal expenses except for child care. However, for this and for other campaign finance reform measures to be meaningful and effective, we urge the General Assembly to create an independent Governmental body responsible for monitoring and enforcement of such measures. We support campaign finance limits on individuals, corporations, and all other entities. We also support a ban on donations by public service corporations. Finally, we support passing the above legislation without further delay. Virginia should not continue be the outlier that it is in this area or the confidence in public officials to represent the people not special interests will continue to erode.
I grew up in VA and returned with my family 23 years ago. During this time, politics in the state has evolve; unfortunately, not enough to restore the faith of the electorate as we are increasingly convinced that governance in VA is “pay to play.” Virginians increasingly distrust our government and elected officials. We feel silenced by big money as our voices are overwhelmed by unchecked spending by corporations, unions, special interest groups, and wealthy individuals. Though such feelings are prevalent throughout the country (nearly 80% of Americans, irrespective of political party, believe that unregulated money is corroding our democracy), VA's campaign finance legal structure is among the weakest in the country; we're one of only 5 states that have no limitations on individual or public/private sector political contributions. Thus, according to the Swamp Index, VA ranks among the worst states in both transparency of and accountability for campaign finance contributions, expenditures, and ethical enforcement. Indeed, behaviors labeled as scandals in other states are embarrassingly considered “business as usual” in VA. This situation must change. Virginians are ready for common sense campaign finance legislation, but to date little action has occurred beyond repeatedly studying the issue with the vast majority of recommendations resulting from the studies failing to be implement . At this time, I urge you to consider addressing 3 areas: Transparency- Enhanced campaign finance disclosure laws can increase transparency and help restore public trust. This should include simplifying the system for filing disclosure reports by creating a robust, mandatory electronic filing system easy for the public to access and analyze. Accountability- Increase finance and ethics enforcement by: (1) creating and funding a new state agency or overhauling the authority of the existing VA Department of Elections to enforce existing disclosure and ethics laws; (2) creating a system for auditing campaign funding with measures like peer review or peer auditing of candidates' disclosures; (3) establishing eligibility thresholds & procedures for official investigation of complaints; and (4) placing restrictions on personal use of campaign funds, utilizing current Federal and standard accounting practices to provide practical & equitable guidance on compliance. Avoiding the Appearance of Corruption- To avoid the appearance of corruption in the electoral process, VA should: (1) support passage of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowing Congress and states to regulate campaign finance spending; (2) reasonably cap contributions through donor limitations establishing time limitations and contribution levels for individual vs. organizational donors; (3) make provision to raise or remove finance limits when candidates run against candidates with significant levels of self-financing; (4) ban corporate contributions (as do 22 states and the Federal Government); and (5) introduce a system of public financing. VA state government and legislators are losing citizens' confidence. The appearance of a “pay-to-play” system results in feelings that the political landscape is tilted against the average citizen, contributing to a declining faith in our political system and politicians. By addressing the 3 areas identified above, you can start to restore faith in our government and legislators. Thank you for your time and efforts.
My name is Patti Morrissey and I’m a former candidate for the House of Delegates and someone with more than three decades of experience in politics and government. I am a member of the VA Chapter of American Promise, (MoneyOutVA) and have been a passionate advocate for campaign finance reform since Senator John McCain made it his signature issue in the late 1990s. The price of entry for all candidates is to play the campaign finance game as it exists today. And if we're honest with ourselves, we will admit that rich donors get unequal attention from politicians, and large companies and utilities, who in Virginia can give unlimited funds, get “friendly” votes from the politicians they have helped elect. It happens at any level of government where candidates must raise a minimum of hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get their message out and be considered a “legitimate” candidate. This system holds them hostage to their largest donors’ special interests, whether they consciously admit it or not. Why do we continue to allow this “system of legalized bribery” (as Senator McCain called it) to control our politics? Why do we pretend this isn’t corrupting to the decision process and that this system often leads to decisions that may be good for wealthy donors’ and corporation’s ability to make more money, but strategically disastrous for the larger society? One need only to look at the decisions made to preserve the profits of the fossil-fuel energy companies, pharmaceutical and insurance companies, and for-profit healthcare corporations to see the negative outcomes for the physical and economic health of the majority of our citizens. At the last meeting of this Special Committee my colleagues Nancy Morgan, Jessica Mott and team from MoneyOutVa introduced our “Citizens’ Report on the Need for Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform in Virginia.” This report offers a phased yet comprehensive plan for legislative action on campaign finance reform. We would request that the Special Committee seriously consider our specific measures (pages 6-8) to improve transparency and accountability, and promote integrity in our campaign finance system. Our goal is to level the playing field through measures such as limiting corporate and union donations and establishing a system of public financing to give candidates some time back to actually campaign, instead of spending an outrageous proportion of their time courting wealthy donors all over the country in a frenzied competition to out-raise their opponents. We can do so much better and we ask that you all have the courage to fight for the common-sense reforms that we recommend for Virginia. Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely, Patricia (Patti) Morrissey Sterling, VA
In anticipation of the first meeting of the committee which was held on August 23, I would like to remind you that 116 Virginians sent in written comments and I think that it is worthwhile to highlight some of these voices who called for campaign finance reform. • Ms Foley from Burke ended her message by saying “We are not silent and we do pay attention. It is time to pay attention to those whom elected you to serve us, each other and our state”. • Byer from Arlington followed up “ It’s time for common sense campaign finance legislation to be introduced into the General Assembly” it at least needs to be mandatory that all campaign contributions, from whatever source be publicly disclosed. • Gracie Patten, a student at William and Mary, passionately stated that “ it’s time for the General Assembly to listen to Virginia citizens and pass some common sense campaign finance legislation. Let’s improve our systems for disclosure and monitoring and enforcement as well as introducing caps on campaign contributions like those which are enforced in 45 other states. Policies like these will take power out of the hands of wealthy interests and put it back into the hands of the people”. • Mr. Bloom from Reston highlighted that “Campaign finance reform is critical to a healthy while Halbert from Charlottesville added: “It has long been unbelievable to me that Virginia has virtually no campaign finance laws. The ability of the rich, whether individuals or corporations, to give unlimited dollars to campaigns in Virginia is antithetical to democracy” • Many commentators, like Nawaz from McLean and Mindy from Arlington called for the Committee to draw on state and national experts, to enable Virginia to benefit from others’ expertise. • Many citizens ask that the products of this committee will include draft legislation for inclusion in the next session of the General Assembly. • Luisa Boyarkski from the Grassroots Coalition encourages the legislative study committee to focus on transparency and public inclusion as they work to promote the integrity of, and public confidence in, the Commonwealth's campaign finance system. • Meanwhile, Shruti Shah, President of the Coalition for Integrity, a national expert on campaign finance reminded the committee that “Our initial conclusion is that once again Virginia will score near the bottom in most of these areas. Virginia has no limits on campaign contributions, no state-wide database of campaign finance reports than can be easily searched and sorted no disclosure requirements for internet-based advertising and reporting of contributors to independent spenders” We urge members of this committee to recognize that now is the time for campaign finance reform. National experts are willing to provide guidance on best practices from around the country. Meanwhile, Virginia citizens are watching and waiting for a comprehensive roadmap for reform.
Dear CFR Legislative Committee Members, I am very concerned about campaign finance in Virginia. Virginia is ranked 46th on the 2020 S.W.A.M.P Index because of inadequate safeguards on transparency and accountability in our state Government. It’s time to put in place campaign finance legislation to build trust among voters that voters/constituents, not corporations and special interests, matter more to our legislators. Specifically, Virginia needs: • enhanced disclosure for dark money contributors, requiring complete disclosure for all contributors of more than $100 to any in-state or out-if state political action committee. • regulatory oversight function for the State Board of Elections. Rules need to be established which allow them to conduct investigations, issue administrative subpoenas, take action on complaints related to campaign finance violations, undertake audits, initiate civil action to enforce campaign finance laws. • additional budget allocated now at the beginning of the biennial budget cycle to strengthen the institutional capacity of the State Board of Elections There are road maps for effective campaign finance reform. Use them: • Citizens Report on the Need for Campaign Finance Reform in Virginia • Best Practices on Campaign Finance Reform: Examples from Washington State, Minnesota, New York City, and Maryland Virginians deserve better. I urge you to support campaign finance reform in Virginia and improve the S.W.A.M.P. index rating to build constituent trust that legislators value constituent voices more highly than campaign donors. Legislators are elected to represent constituents, only. Thank you,
Improved Transparency – Public Disclosure of Campaign Finance Data Under existing laws, the Department of Elections must make “certain there is full public access to campaign financial data and financial disclosure reports" and “administer Virginia’s Campaign Finance laws.” This legislative mandate, which requires in an election cycle the collection and retention of filings from more than 300 candidates at the state level and a significantly greater number of candidates at the local and county level, is currently handled by some “very part time” IT help and two state employees, one of whom is also responsible for providing training and support on the existing system for all campaign treasurers. The existing system, COMET, was introduced in 2012 and appears not to have had a major technical upgrade since then. While Virginians can certainly access campaign financial data, if it is electronic, since it has only been within the last five years that candidates at the state level have been required to file electronically and some candidates at the local level are still allowed to file paper copies, it is incumbent on the user to determine how to download this data in order to conduct their own assessment and analysis. If the copies of the filings are paper, a citizen would have to visit the Virginia Library or every county’s general registrar to obtain this data. Further, if a Virginia citizen wishes to obtain a “dump of legislative data” from the existing campaign finance data, the Department of Elections cannot provide direct downloads due to “contractual obligations.” Instead, to provide Virginia citizens and taxpayers with the transparent access to the data as they are legally required to do, the Department of Elections actually refers you to VPAP, a private entity. Further, if a citizen of Virginia requests VPAP to conduct an analysis of campaign financial data other than what has been posted on their website, VPAP picks and choses to whom they are willing to provide that specifically requested analysis. As we have experienced, if VPAP decides that a citizen of Virginia or a civil activist organization is going to use specifically requested analysis for “campaign advocacy,” they will be turned away. On the other hand, if a journalist will use specially requested analysis to write a news story, they receive special treatment in the form of the analysis they request. It is our position the Department of Elections should be adequately staffed and funded by our tax dollars to fulfill its legislative mandate to provide “full public access” to campaign finance data through enhanced electronic filing, up to date data collection and retention, and average citizen-friendly data access. As a citizen of this state, I should not have to rely on a private entity that is funded through donations by both lobbyists and legislatures, among others, to provide true transparency for the state’s campaign finance data. In our recent report, we have provided four examples, the States of Minnesota, Maryland, and Washington, and New York City, of best practices in true transparency in reporting of campaign finance data by state institutions that are publicly accessible without having to, as a Department of Elections employee described, “trudge and slog through old data.” Boardhttps://cfb.mn.gov/ http://nyccfb.info/ https://www.pdc.wa.gov/ https://www.elections.maryland.gov/campaign_finance/index.html
Studying comprehensive campaign finance reform is commendable. But it's time -- after more than two decades of study -- to be bold! All Virginia citizens deserve to have their voice heard on a comparable level to wealthy donors and corporations. Undue influence resulting from unlimited campaign contributions invites conflict of interest and fraud. It's not enough to simply ensure proper reporting and restrictions on spending campaign money. Let's finally pass campaign donation limits and leave the gang of Wild, Wild West states that are growing smaller in number with each passing year. Virginia deserves to be among the best in running fair elections.
Contact: Jessica Mott (firstname.lastname@example.org) My name is Jessica Mott. I am a member of the Virginia Chapter of American Promise and a resident of Arlington County. Public trust requires that campaign finance data be complete and accurate. For this, Virginia needs to build the institutional capacity of its public sector. Karen Greenaway’s separate testimony is addressing the need for the Department of Elections to improve public access to campaign finance data. The focus of my testimony is on the institutional capacity needed (a) to develop campaign finance regulations and (b) to implement monitoring and enforcement. All four of the “best practice” jurisdictions (Maryland, Washington, Minnesota, and NYC) have guidelines on a range of topics, e.g., campaign finance data completeness and accuracy, monitoring procedures, complaint thresholds and processing, personal use restrictions, etc. Their legal specialists have developed the associated campaign finance regulations. In some jurisdictions the final regulations have to be approved by an oversight board, but in no case do their legislators create the regulations. Virginia needs to use its “administrative procedures”, and like these other jurisdictions, gain the legal capacity to develop campaign finance regulations. Expanded staff capacity and other support (e.g., perhaps including contracts for audits and IT upgrades) are also needed for the state government to actually undertake regular monitoring and enforcement, and to provide training and help desk support for campaigns and others. All four of the best practice jurisdictions include monitoring and enforcement as part of their mandates. All four have staff and other capacity to carry out this mandate. All have IT systems that are continually upgraded to incorporate state-of-the-art tools. These systems expedite complete and accurate filing of campaign finance data, automatically identify discrepancies for self-correction by filing entities, and flag situations requiring staff follow-up. In addition, the four jurisdictions have staff who provide "help desk" and training services for candidate campaigns and others, in order to facilitate compliance. Once monitoring and enforcement is fully established, Virginia’s citizens will have greater confidence in the likelihood of campaign finance compliance, consistency, and integrity. Virginia’s biennial budget cycle makes legislative action to build institutional capacity urgent. We ask that the Joint Subcommittee develop the foundation for this legislation, and in so doing increase prospects for its approval during the regular 2022 General Assembly session. Thank you for your work on this committee and for this opportunity to testify.
Delegate Simon is wrong about a lot of stuff, especially ghost guns and other silly liberal stuff. He’s not wrong about the need for comprehensive campaign finance reform in Virginia. There is too much secret dark money. There’s too much money in general in the system. I hope y’all will listen to what Delegate Simon has been saying for years and do something significant about comprehensive campaign finance reform in the Commonwealth. I mean this as a complement.
Dear Members of the Joint Subcommittee to Study Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform, Almost 30 years ago, VA Governor Wilder saw the need for common sense campaign finance limits, yet our representatives simply ignored the advice of his commission. Since then, it has become very clear that money talks in Richmond, and it is not always to the benefit of our citizens. It is embarrassing to acknowledge that this state is ranked 46th on the 2020 S.W.A.M.P Index because of inadequate safeguards on transparency and accountability for our state campaign finance laws. This year should be the year that common sense campaign finance bills finally pass in our General Assembly. The voices of the poor should count just as much if not more than those of the wealthy and definitely more than those of large corporations. Virginia needs to catch up with the rest of the country by improving its systems for disclosure, monitoring and enforcement. Virginia also needs caps on campaign contributions like those enforced in 45 other states. We also need to put laws in place which help legislators spend LESS time fund-raising, and MORE time addressing the needs of their citizens. Please support campaign finance reform packages and help them pass in the next session. Thank you!
My name is Nancy Morgan, the coordinator of the VA Chapter of American Promise, a non-profit, non partisan group which is often called MoneyOutVA. During the last meeting, we were grateful for the opportunity to present our roadmap for action on campaign finance reform (A Citizens Report on the Need for Campaign Finance Reform in Virginia found at https://vmop.org/ ) which recommends a sequenced framework for reform. We highlighted the need for a comprehensive plan of reform which if enacted would push Virginia from the bottom of the S.W.A.M.P. Index to near the top. Del Bulova mentioned in the last meeting of the need for looking at best practices from other states, in particular auditing /enforcement. Senator Deeds requested that a Board of Elections speaker participate to describe what it would take to put a solid system in place. On our part, as part of our analysis, we have pulled together Best Practices in Campaign Finance Reform from selected jurisdictions, in particular Washington State, Minnesota, New York City, and Maryland which we have shared with all committee members. You can find it on our website: https://vmop.org/. This document reviews the history, structure, and mission of the campaign finance systems in these four jurisdictions. It should be noted that Washington, Minnesota, and NYC has more or less autonomous Boards which enhances public trust in these institutions. We highlight where we could their governing structures, staffing and budgets as well. We reviewed their disclosure systems, provided links to their legislation on campaign finance, including links to legislation on restrictions on personal use, limitations, etc. Some of the key entry points for reforms in in Virginia include the following: • Comprehensive campaign finance reform starts with a regulatory structure which facilitates oversight of campaign finance contributions and expenditures. Rules need to be established which allow them to conduct investigations, issue administrative subpoenas, take action on complaints related to campaign finance violations, undertake audits, initiate civil action to enforce campaign finance laws. • Strengthening the institutional capacity of the State Board of Elections will require additional budget which should be allocated now because this is the beginning of a biennial budget cycle. • We need enhanced disclosure for dark money contributors, requiring complete disclosure for all contributors of more than $100 to any in-state or out-if state political action committee. Investments need to be made in the Board of Elections which facilitate disclosure of campaign finance contributions to the public. This is part of their mandate and it is inappropriate that it is outsourced to VPAP, a private entity, which is funded by donors. Outsourcing of its mandate of providing campaign finance information to the public should be done in a way that ensures a transparent contracting process. We encourage the members of this committee to call on national experts in their upcoming meetings, including the contact people in this document (their emails are available in the document), to provide them with guidance on best practices. There is no dearth of examples to draw on from around the country and the only way for Virginia to go is “up” in terms of good governance in the area of campaign finance.
Campaign financing in Virginia needs transparency. In order to accomplish that we need campaign finance reform with a regulatory structure which facilitates oversight of campaign contributions and expenditures. Since the State Board of Elections has no regulatory oversight function, rules need to be established which would allow them to conduct investigations, issue administrative subpoenas, take action on complaints related to campaign finance violations, undertake audits, and initiate civil action to enforce campaign finance laws. We need enhanced disclosure for dark money contributors, requiring complete disclosure for all contributors of more than $100 to any in- or out-of state political action committee. We need the committee to produce a report this November which includes concrete legislation to pass and a plan of action. In order to achieve this the State Board of Elections will require additional budget which should be allocated now because this is the beginning of a biennial budget cycle.
On behalf of the Virginia Grassroots Coalition, which represents more than 50 grassroots groups and 15,000 Virginia voters, I would like to urge the study committee to provide a comprehensive roadmap for reform and action on campaign finance reform. Comprehensive campaign finance reform must start with creating a regulatory structure that facilitates oversight of campaign finance contributions and expenditures. This should include establishing rules that allow the State Board of Elections to conduct investigations, issue administrative subpoenas, take action on complaints related to campaign finance violations, undertake audits, and initiate civil action to enforce campaign finance laws. Any laws passed without a regulatory structure are not enforceable and therefore ineffective. Strengthening the institutional capacity of the State Board of Elections will require a budget allocation, which should be included in this biennial budget cycle. Thank you for your work to produce a report by November which includes concrete legislation to pass and a plan of action. I also want to remind you of two reports that include recommendations for a roadmap to reform: • Citizens Report on the Need for Campaign Finance Reform in Virginia - https://virginiamoneyinpolitics.files.wordpress.com/2021/08/citizens-report-on-campaign-finance-reform-2.pdf • Best Practices on Campaign Finance Reform: Examples from Washington State, Minnesota, New York City, and Maryland - https://virginiamoneyinpolitics.files.wordpress.com/2021/09/gold-standard-examples-in-campaign-finance-systems-september-2021.pdf If the Virginia Grassroots Coalition can be helpful in anyway, please let me know. Luisa Boyarski Leader Virginia Grassroots Coalition email@example.com