Currently, as you probably are aware, members of the Virginia General Assembly are prohibited from raising money during session. There’s a logic to this; namely, that fundraising during session creates at least the appearance of impropriety (e.g., members taking money from the very corporations and others who stand to gain – or lose – from legislation before those very same General Assembly members).
Of course, this prohibition is utterly inadequate – basically a bad joke – as it’s still possible for corporations and others to donate unlimited amounts of money to members in all the time leading up to and following sessions. For instance, while our pals at Dominion Power aren’t allowed to donate to Speaker Bill “ALEC” Howell DURING a session, it’s perfectly legal from them to donate as much as they want to Howell (or anyone else) the moment a session ends, all the way up to the moment a new session begins. How on earth that prevents the appearance of impropriety, let alone actual impropriety (e.g., the “capture” of our government by powerful interests of all types) is beyond me.
Add to this pathetically weak, intrinsically corrupt situation the fact that Republicans last year held extended “special sessions,” the apparent purpose of which being to prevent Gov. McAuliffe from appointing judges, while effectively allowing the Republican-dominated legislature to stack the Virginia judiciary. During those “special sessions,” commonsense would suggest that the same logic about not being able to fundraise during regular sessions would apply. I mean, either you’re in session or you’re not, whether it’s called “special” or “regular” or whatever.
Right? Except for one problem: we’re not talking about normal human logic here, but instead that strange, oxymoronic concept known as “Republican logic.” As Gov. McAuliffe tweeted earlier today: “Disappointed to see a party line vote defeat proposal to ban fundraising in special session. A session is a session & should have same rules.” Yeah, you’d think they should. But not, apparently, in a General Assembly controlled by the likes of Bill “ALEC” Howell, Tommy Norment, etc.
Anyway, that so-called “Republican logic” was on full display earlier today in a House of Delegates subcommittee, where Republicans killed, on a party-line vote (shocker!), legislation that would have prohibited fundraising during special sessions, just as it’s prohibited during regular sessions. I had a short conversation with Democratic House Leader Del. David Toscano about this a little while ago. The bottom line, in Toscano’s view, is that prohibiting fundraising during special sessions would have made Virginia’s pathetically weak campaign finance ethics system at least a wee bit stronger than it is now. But Republicans clearly prefer to have their cake (being able to call extended special sessions to block Gov. McAuliffe from appointing people to the judiciary) and eat it too (treat the special session differently than the regular session when it comes to raising money). It’s not good government, it’s not a sign of seriousness on ethics reform (even after everything we’ve seen the past couple years, including the conviction of former Gov. McDonnell), and it’s not internally consistent logic. But…it’s what Republicans want, and sadly they’re in the majority right now and can get their way. Which is just one reason, out of many other important ones, why Democrats need to take back the State Senate this November and pick up a bunch of seats in the House of Delegates as well.