Public Comments for 10/01/2021 Joint Subcommittee to Study Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform
There is a growing awareness – across the Commonwealth and around the country – of the need for campaign finance reform, to reduce not only the risk of undue influence, but also the possibility of outright corruption. • As you know, the Virginia legislature has the unfortunate reputation of being a "captive legislature" that is subservient to Dominion Energy. • Therefore, cleaning up the rules so that members cannot accept money from regulated monopolies – or make personal use of campaign funds – will *not only* best serve the electorate, whose interests should be front and center for every legislator, *but also* improve the reputation of every member of the General Assembly! • I urge you to recommend strong campaign finance reforms, that will increase the electorate's faith in the General Assembly as being a clean, transparent, and honorable body that puts the interests of Virginia's citizens first. Thank you for your efforts on behalf of all the people of Virginia.
Dear members of the Joint Subcommittee to Study Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform, I respectfully urge you to recommend that our legislature formally ban political campaign contributions from publicly regulated monopoly electric utilities which are overseen by the General Assembly. It is a direct conflict of interest for legislators to receive financial contributions from entities whose prices they are tasked with regulating. Banning campaign contributions from these regulated utilities will help to restore trust in our legislative process around laws related to their regulation. Additionally, banning campaign contributions from publicly regulated utility monopolies is doubly essential given Virginia’s lack of a ban on the personal use of campaign funds, which I also hope you will recommend in your report. Together, these highly overdue campaign finance reforms will go a long way towards rebuilding Virginians' trust in government. Thank you for your commitment to campaign finance reform, for the critically important work you are doing on behalf of all Virginians by serving on this committee.
My name is Zeina Hutchison and I am a member of the VA chapter of American Promise. Leading up to and during the 2021 legislative session, campaign finance reform was clearly at the forefront of conversations both for the public and elected officials - so much so that 5 bills were introduced to address the shameful financial hemorrhaging and corruption in Virginia’s political campaigns. Yet none but one even got a vote, let alone passed. We felt that the failure of actual campaign finance reform legislation to even get a vote and that the mere creation of this subcommittee was a lot less than what Virginians have long deserved and needed. The sentiment around the creation of this subcommittee, fairly or unfairly, was that this may end up being a means for the Virginia General Assembly to drag their feet on, and continue to avoid this issue as has been done decade after decade. This time, however, a failure to act will reflect negatively on this subcommittee in particular. You all are in a unique position to: either trailblaze and bring legislation for serious reform, which will undoubtedly help with re-election and your legacy, or become an example of the blatant refusal of our legislature to act on Virginia's failed campaign transparency and integrity. Knowing that there is a lot at stake both for the committee and for Virginia, our team worked tirelessly to ensure this committee’s success. We provided this committee with a comprehensive report that included extensive research, data analysis and examples of solutions from other states. The report also gave proposals for this committee to take next steps. As you also know, we diligently met with many legislators on both sides of the aisle and have spoken to many organizations on this issue. While this committee has only met 4 times, you have everything you need to take the next steps. The Subcommittee to Study Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform has no real excuse not to produce legislation on Campaign finance reform for the 2022 legislative session to at the very least take action to regulate election spending and improve regulatory oversight. In addition, as I mentioned in my testimony on September 17, 2021 but it is important to remind you all that the Virginia GA needs to be representative of the people. Due to the unlimited, exorbitant and unregulated cost, the lack of transparency and oversight as well as the monopolized nature of campaigns, only a select few can run for office and stay 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. We appreciate the time you took to meet with us, for listening to our testimonies and for your dedication to this issue. We hope to continue to work with you to help pass legislation and to create a framework for a campaign finance system that Virginians can be proud of. We can and we must.
Thank you Mr. Chairman and Members of the Joint Subcommittee for this opportunity to testify on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Virginia, and its 14 Local Leagues serving voters throughout the Commonwealth. This statement focuses specifically on the Draft legislative proposal that would ban personal use of campaign funds, released on October 1, 2021 (22100286D). The LWV-VA welcomes all the time and work that the Joint Subcommittee has dedicated to this important issue.. The Joint Subcommittee’s extensive discussion of the language during your meeting on September 23, is reflected in this draft, including changes we support, including the clarification that each expenditure counts as a separate violation and the cap of $10,000 on the civil penalty. Where we part company with this new draft is that it does not include a specific exemption for childcare from the definition of “personal use.” As you may know, the federal statute limiting personal use does not currently have a specific child care exception, but the major election reform bill, introduced this year in both the US House and Senate (HR1/S1/S2747), does include a child care exemption, which we believe could be used as a model for Virginia law: “(d) TREATMENT OF PAYMENTS FOR CHILD CARE AND OTHER PERSONAL USE SERVICES AS AUTHORIZED CAMPAIGN EXPENDITURE.— ‘‘(1) AUTHORIZED EXPENDITURES.—For purposes of subsection (a), the payment by an authorized committee of a candidate for any of the personal use services described in paragraph (3) shall be treated as an authorized expenditure if the services are necessary to enable the participation of the candidate in campaign-connected activities. ‘‘(2) LIMITATIONS.— ‘‘(A) LIMIT ON TOTAL AMOUNT OF PAYMENTS.—The total amount of payments made by an authorized committee of a candidate for personal use services described in paragraph (3) may not exceed the limit which is applicable under any law, rule, or regulation on the amount of payments which may be made by the committee for the salary of the candidate (without regard to whether or not the committee makes payments to the candidate for that purpose). ‘‘(B) CORRESPONDING REDUCTION IN AMOUNT OF SALARY PAID TO CANDIDATE.—To the extent that an authorized committee of a candidate makes payments for the salary of the candidate, any limit on the amount of such payments which is applicable under any law, rule, or regulation shall be reduced by the amount of any payments made to or on behalf of the candidate for personal use services described in paragraph (3), other than personal use services described in subparagraph (D) of such paragraph. ‘‘(C) EXCLUSION OF CANDIDATES WHO ARE OFFICEHOLDERS.—Paragraph (1) does not apply with respect to an authorized committee of a candidate who is a holder of Federal office (3) PERSONAL USE SERVICES DESCRIBED.— The personal use services described in this paragraph are as follows: ‘‘(A) Child care services. ‘‘(B) Elder care services. ‘‘(C) Services similar to the services described in subparagraph (A) or subparagraph (B) which are provided on behalf of any dependent who is a qualifying relative under section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. ‘‘(D) Health insurance premiums.’’ The League of Women Voters of Virginia remains committed to supporting strong, comprehensive campaign finance reform. Contact: Janet Boyd, League of Women Voters of Virginia, 202-415-4164, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for the opportunity to comment. My name is Joy Loving. I live in Rockingham County. I am a Dominion net-metered customer; I went solar in 2012 and have spent many hours since then examining VA's energy policy, including the net metering laws. Because of Dominion’s incorrect calculations of my monthly bills for many months, I came to learn a lot about the power that this particular company wields. Though I'm not an expert, my personal experience with how these laws read, and how they are interpreted, has lead me to conclude that real reform is needed. VA's utility model is often described as a "regulated monopoly". In practice, the VA legislators have historically acted to further the interests of the utilities and against consumer interests. Compounding this behavior is the legislature's frequent weakening of the authority of the state's regulatory body, the State Corporation Commission. The legislative language that the utility promotes is most often adopted. In some cases it’s clearly meant to promote the utility’s profitability and reduce governance by the SCC, often without regard to the implications for utility customers—the ratepayers. Recent examples are provisions in the Grid Modernization Act and the VA Clean Economy Act. No doubt legislators believed these provisions represented win-wins. But they don't necessarily acknowledge the economic burdens on customers that result. By giving more weight to utility proposals and tying the SCC's hands with such legal declarations as "in the public interest" (without specifying how that's so), the legislature is failing to fairly represent those who should be its main constituents--VA citizens. What does all this have to do with campaign finance reform? VA's lack of constraints on campaign financing has meant that utilities can, and do, provide substantial money to many legislators, especially to those who sit on committees that consider relevant legislation. This largesse, taken together with the legislature's history of accepting the utilities' framing of statutory language and their interpretation of what that language means, has made mockery of the term "regulated monopoly." And this situation has cost ratepayers literally billions of dollars over the years. You have the chance—and hopefully the intent—to address this particular situation and the countless others that arise when those who can pay are those whose voices are heard. I hope you will heed my message: Fix this lousy system. Voters like me are watching.
The Virginia elected official should be prohibited from receiving campaign contributions from publicly regulated utilities or their PACs. This is a conflict of interest. There also should be a limit on personal campaign contributions . In addition , elected officials should not be able to use campaign contributions for their own personal expenses.
I volunteer with the Hampton Roads Legislative Collaborative Table. Last fall, as we talked to legislators, we asked them about campaign finance. We heard complaints about out-of-state money pouring into races, and about all the time spent fundraising. We heard views for and against corporate donations, especially from regulated public utilities. We heard adamant denials that a legislator would vote differently on account of a big donation. Instead, it became clear that deep-pocket donors didn’t need to ask, as long as they helped elect candidates who already favored their position. Overall, it was clear that no legislator liked the current way campaigns are financed. And from my viewpoint as a voter, I don’t want to be constantly badgered for money. As a constituent, I don’t want fundraising to be the top priority of those who represent me. The entire campaign finance system needs an overhaul, not just some tweaks around the edges. Therefore, I urge you to request an extension for your committee in order to give this complex subject the time that it deserves. Virginia voters deserve candidates who are focused on policy, not phone calls. We want people in the General Assembly who have skills beyond fundraising. I am amazed and thankful that we get good legislators despite the way campaigns are financed. But we can do better, so please take the time to look at the campaign finance system as a system and have the courage to propose bold changes! Thank you for your commitment to good government.
My name is Nancy Morgan, VA coordinator for American Promise. Many thanks to the committee for taking a comprehensive view of campaign finance reform and moving quickly over the past month and a half towards actually preparing elements of legislation for introduction in the next General Assembly. Virginia has seen limited progress on this issue over the past thirty years, and many Virginians, including in the press, have expressed concern about this committee being used as a means of kicking the “can of campaign finance reform” down the road. However, due to your substantive technical discussions, our group is hopeful that this committee, especially if it extends its mandate into next year, will be successful in developing a roadmap for reform which strengthens Virginia’s reputation in the area of good governance, thus building trust between elected officials and citizens of the Commonwealth. We trust that your November report will include critical elements to include into two bills, in addition to the personal use bill, which your committee will support in the next General Assembly: one focused on disclosure, drawing on the best practices endorsed by the Campaign Legal Center; and the second focused on institutional strengthening of the Board of Elections. The latter should include an adequate budget for oversight/auditing, training and a help desk for candidates, and investment in a robust IT system. Meanwhile, please don’t neglect to emphasize in your report that comprehensive campaign finance reform should also include a review of the “bucket” that we entitled in our Citizens Report “Promoting Integrity through Fair Play”. We define this as rules that equalize campaign finance levels to reduce the appearance of corruption by fostering “fairness in competitive elections. This includes dollar limits on contributions, including from corporations, exploring options to implement public financing of elections and having Virginia take a stand, through a state resolution, on the need for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to allow states to regulate campaign spending. 21 states have passed similar resolutions and we are asking Virginia to raise their voice for necessary reforms on a federal level which affect Virginia elections. In the written testimony of a colleague, she includes a letter to this subcommittee (shared with all the members electronically) supporting campaign finance reform. It is signed by over 30 groups from around the state, including business, asking that this sub-committee take action. They state that “Virginians feel that it is now time to address campaign finance reform and the perceived corrosive effects that “pay-to-play” has on our legislative process. A systematic reform of our campaign finance systems which makes transparent the money flowing into our state politics can only serve to make legislators more accountable to voters and serve as an important step in restoring people’s trust in government”. As my colleague, Denny Phipps, indicated in his testimony on Sept 17th, when he reviewed key messages from the 116 written statements, Virginia citizens are watching and waiting for a comprehensive roadmap for reform. Herbert from Charlottesville had it right when he wrote that campaign finance reform is critical to a healthy democracy in Virginia.
Surveys show that nearly 90 percent of Americans, irrespective of their party affiliations, agree it is important to reduce or counterbalance the influence of big campaign donors on our elections. Small and medium-sized business owners complain that big money and special interests suppress product innovation and market competition, creating more monopolistic entities than ever before. In fact, 85% of business leaders believe that our campaign finance system is broken and action needs to be taken to repair it. In 2020, Virginia was ranked 46 out of 50 in the S.W.A.M.P Index, a cross -state comparative analysis of transparency and accountability. We are one of only five states which has no limits on campaign contributions and limited regulatory oversight over money coming into our elections. 30 years ago, the 1994 “Campaign Finance Reform, Government Accountability, and Ethics Study” initiated by Governor Wilder, recommended a campaign finance reform agenda which included campaign contribution limits, campaign finance reporting, including computerization, and a new state ethics commission. Governor Wilder reaffirmed the need for campaign finance reform in Virginia in a recent blog. Virginians feel that it is now time to address campaign finance reform and the perceived corrosive effects that “pay-to-play” has on our legislative process. A systematic reform of our campaign finance systems which makes transparent the money flowing into our state politics can only serve to make legislators more accountable to voters and serve as an important step in restoring people’s trust in government. A recent Citizens Report on the Need for Campaign Finance Reform in Virginia outlined a sequenced roadmap for reform for Virginia through: 1. Strengthening transparency and accountability by enhancing disclosure, establishing regular auditing, creating and implementing guidelines for complaints, restricting personal use of campaign funds, and establishing the requisite institutional authority, capacity, and budget in the State Board of Elections which is responsible for campaign finance oversight. 2. Promoting integrity through fair play by establishing limits on campaign contributions, introducing public financing of elections, and enabling the state legislature to explicitly support the passage of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution authorizing states to regulate campaign spending. We feel that the members of the Joint Subcommittee to Study Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform have an important role in developing a roadmap for campaign finance reform and proposing entry points for action. This letter is endorsed by: VA Chapter of American Promise VaOurWay MoneyOutVA NETWORK for Social Justice Indivisible Virginia Virginia Political Cooperative Vienna Neighbors United Network NOVA Center for Common Ground We of Action (WofA) UnKoch My Campus Activate Virginia Herndon Huddle Virginia Democratic Arab American Forum Progressive Democrats of America ARTivism in Virginia LWCC Grassroots Alexandria Shenandoah Indivisible End Citizens United // Let America Vote Action Fund Virginia Justice Democrats Virginia Democracy Forward (VADF) Women Marchers of West Springfield Public Citizen Maginniss + del Ninno Architects Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Virginia Organizing Virginia Coalition for Human Rights Indivisible Charlottesville
Dear Joint Subcommittee. MapLight is a national nonprofit organization that improves transparency for campaign finance. We advise governments on improving disclosure of money in politics. We also publish a software system for candidates to file campaign reports that provides outstanding transparency to the public and supports government officials in ensuring that candidates comply with campaign-finance laws. We work with government entities such as Denver, Colorado and the California Secretary of State. We recommend that the state of Virginia implement a software system for filing campaign finance transactions that provides easy-to-access transparency to the public. To best support the public interest, we recommend that such a system include: - an easily-searchable, user-friendly public access portal - electronic filing of individual transactions like contributions and expenses, as opposed to using paper-based or PDF-based forms - all public data in the system should be available for the public to download - all public data in the system should be available through a public API (application programming interface), which allows other websites and software to import and display this public information - graphs and charts to show top contributors, the geographic location of contributors, and other information of public interest - site navigation and instructions in multiple languages, to increase public access For the best public transparency, we also recommend that the state implement a statewide system that integrates campaign-finance filings from the city and county levels as well as the state level. MapLight would be pleased to talk with your subcommittee or others in the state of Virginia regarding best practices for systems to support campaign finance transparency. Thank you for your work. Sincerely, Daniel G. Newman President & Co-Founder MapLight email@example.com maplight.org 510-868-0894
Testimony for October 1, 2022 Meeting of Joint Subcommittee on Campaign Finance Reform My name is Jessica Mott (firstname.lastname@example.org). I am a member of the Virginia Chapter of American Promise and a resident of Arlington County. We commend the Joint Subcommittee's work on restricting personal use of campaign finance. Based on discussions to date, we are hopeful that at the October 1 meeting the Subcommittee will also reach agreement, at least in principle, on strengthening oversight/disclosure and associated institutional capacity. We recognize that you are unlikely to have the time during your 4th meeting to carefully consider draft legislation on this agenda. Accordingly, we request that your conclusion, at a minimum, include explicit provision for specific legislation to be drafted this fall, and then receive favorable consideration during the 2022 General Assembly regular session. This agenda should encompass the following: • updating the information technology related to campaign finance, • adding provisions to ensure more accessible and complete disclosure (including of independent expenditures which currently are not filed electronically), • establishing more robust guidelines on data completeness and accuracy, • monitoring compliance through automatic data cross-checks and algorithms as well as sample auditing, and • strengthening agency training/help desk support to facilitate compliance. As our best practice paper illustrates, other jurisdictions have already established practices that Virginia could emulate. As citizens, we feel that now is the time for Virginia to start to update and strengthen institutional capacity. This upgrade of necessity should include the provision of associated budget support, assuming additional fees cannot fully cover costs. Any user or filing fees that are added, however, should: • avoid creating disincentive to full and accurate reporting of donations, and public access to that data; and • avoid creating barriers to entry by less affluent campaigns and/or public interest lobbyists. Complete, accurate, and accessible information on campaign finance benefits the public. It is a key part of the transparency that underpins good government, and corresponding public confidence and trust. Government budget for this therefore merits your support. We note that the Joint Subcommittee has not been able to consider the full range of campaign finance issues that we have raised in our Citizen’s Report. We would welcome the subcommittee’s continuation during 2022, provided that this time be used to study this broader agenda, and not be used as a way of postponing progress on the disclosure/monitoring agenda in the 2022 General Assembly session. Thank you for your work on this committee and for this opportunity to testify.
MISSING THE TARGET? Joseph Heller's iconic and farcical novel CATCH 22 chronicled the exploits of U. S. bomber pilots in Europe during WWII who convinced their commanders that having a nice tight bombing pattern on the ground was more important than hitting the target. (Because flying over the well-defended targets was dangerous.) My concern is that the Joint Subcommittee is taking that same kind of evasive maneuver to avoid true campaign finance reform. Efforts focused strictly on clarifying personal use of campaign funds and public reporting of donations and expenditures miss the target by a mile. Virginia needs to join the majority of states in setting DOLLAR LIMITS on campaign donations. Anything less is a dereliction of duty, in my opinion, delaying once again the kind of true reform that has now languished in the Commonwealth for more than two decades. Please do your duty and report to the General Assembly the need for legislation to once-and-for-all set such limits. If not now, when? There always seems to be a Catch 22 blocking the effort.
The basic facts are known by all members of the committee as well as by residents like me, Mindy Mitchell. Virginia is one of 10 states with no contribution limits on individual donors to political candidates and one of five with no limits on contributions by corporations. It is one of 18 states with no restrictions on state party committees’ ability to contribute money to a candidate’s campaign. Virginia is one of 10 states that allow political action committees to contribute unlimited amounts of money to candidates. I appreciate that District 31 is represented on the committee by Barbara Favola. The public trust is already damaged. We are currently treated to daily updates on the election cycle in which huge sums are being spent and one of our candidates is “self-financed.” Buying office in the Commonwealth is on full display, along with the question of what $40 million actually buys. Pipeline access to the Atlantic Ocean? It is very important that this committee open the process by recommending the introduction of a bill in the next Session to strengthen the State Board of Elections with regulatory oversight of campaign finance, enhanced staffing and compliance training support for legislators, and audits and other monitoring activities, such as investigations. We in Virginia need accountability, transparency, and a government structure, not a volunteer group. Mindy Mitchell 3601 5th St S #306 Arlington, VA 22204