In today’s Roanoke Times Dan Casey has a fascinating chapter in the unfolding story about the sleaze surrounding the U.S. Navy Veterans Association and its purchase of legislative “access” in Virginia. Ever since Sen. Jim Webb blew the cover of this bogus “charity” and revealed it for the fraud it surely seems to be, more and more information is accumulating about exactly how former director Bobby Thompson got his desired exemption from a law that would have required the group to register with state government.
Considering the millions that the “charity” has raked in, the price in campaign contributions for that “access” was pretty cheap, a paltry $67,500. Politicians who received campaign contributions from the group have given the money to real military charities, including Repubican Gov. Bob McDonnell and Democratic State Sen. Patsy Ticer, with one glaring exception – Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
In addition to Cuccinelli getting $55,000 in contributions to his campaign from U.S. Navy Vets, it is now coming out just how much Cooch courted the group (if it is a group) for those funds.
At first, Cuccinelli’s political director Noah Wall tried to avoid questions about whether “any of that money was solicited,” Casey reported. Also, Cuccinelli campaign strategist Chris Lacivita told the Roanoke Times that the campaign would have checked out Bobby Thompson, just as it would have any large contributor.
A later story from Ken Cuccinelli was quite a bit different, Casey said. “Cuccinelli acknowledged personally soliciting Thompson’s big contribution in a telephone call in August. And no, the campaign didn’t bother to check out Thompson’s background, he said.”
After Cuccinelli had won the election for attorney general and while a bill to exempt Thompson’s “charity” from state oversight was wending its way through the General Assembly, Casey said, “Cuccinelli met with a U.S. Navy Vets lawyer in his political action committee office in Northern Virginia.” Hmmm. Was that meeting to give the lawyer a progress report on the bill? Sounds like it.
It’s not to difficult to discover reasons to question the validity of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. Its website, raises more questions than it answers. Here’s just one example.
Guess who the group is audited by? It’s the “Auditing Committee of the United States Navy Veterans Association.” That’s convenient. The annual report on the website contains no actual figures or dollar amounts, simply assurances that the audit was fine.
Nowhere on the website could I find a list of the board of directors and their resumes, something that is usual practice for charities. Dan Casey noted that the group insists members of its board of directors do exist. He suggested one way they could settle questions about the group’s validity: meet with Sen. Webb, and perhaps bring proof of identity with them.
Sadly, for me this is yet again proof that the system that has evolved to fund American political campaigns at all levels almost inevitably leads to this sort of bipartisan sleaze. It’s not just one party that’s addicted to catering to large contributors who are searching for favors. The whole system guarantees that situations like this will arise during every election cycle at every level of government.
Representative democracy only works if all people are represented, if we all can have that coveted “access.”
If Americans really care about getting their democracy back, they will see that public funding of elections is a necessary step. And, because the Supreme Court has equated money with speech, as well as recently ruling that corporate groups and labor unions can openly pay for attack ads, it probably will take a constitutional amendment to do the job. Otherwise, money will continue to buy political favors and poison the political process with the corruption that flows from it.