The award for the most absurd Virginia-politics-related quote(s) yesterday goes to…drum roll please…State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax), who clocks in with this beauty:
“I think it’s time to move on,” Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen (D-Fairfax) said hours after the prosecutors said in a court filing that they would not retry McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on corruption charges for accepting lavish vacations, sweetheart loans and catering for a daughter’s wedding from a business executive who wanted their help in promoting his dietary supplement.
Petersen said the anything-goes gift-giving culture that once pervaded Richmond is gone, even if loopholes remain. “I’m not saying everything is perfect,” he said. “It’s not. But it’s better.”
Let’s start with the latter point first: when it comes to ethics and corruption in Richmond, are things “better?” Read this and consider that question for yourself:
Before the McDonnell saga, legislators were free to accept gifts of any size as long as they reported any worth more than $50. Now, there’s an annual limit of $100.
But that cap applies only to lobbyists or those who hire them. A business executive like Jonnie R. Williams Sr., who never hired a lobbyist to pitch his tobacco-based Anatabloc supplement, remains free to shower gifts on legislators, just as he did on the McDonnell family.
Legislators are also still largely permitted to use campaign cash for personal use. State law prohibits that practice only when a candidate is leaving office, on the assumption that no one who planned to stand before voters again would dare pay the grocery bill with campaign funds. But candidates can — and some do.
Great, huh? And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of “legalized corruption” in Virginia. Since the news broke in 2013 about the McDonnell’s $100,000+ in gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Sr., has anything fundamentally changed in terms of wealthy, powerful interests “capturing” (aka, “buying”) our state legislature, regulatory agencies, etc? A few points on that front:
- Since January 1, 2014, Dominion Power has given nearly $1.9 MILLION in donations to Virginia Democrats and Republicans. Let’s just say, this wasn’t out of the goodness of Dominion’s cold heart…
- Let’s not forget this story – Head DEQ official accepted Dominion gifts, including paid trip to Master’s tourney, in which “the director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, David Paylor, accepted gifts from Dominion in 2013, including a trip to the Masters golf tournament in Georgia.” That’s right, the biggest polluter in Virginia BY FAR was busy showering with gifts the head of the state agency ostensibly charged with protecting the environment. Nothing slimy or suspicious there, right? Uh huh…
- Dominion is just the tip of the iceberg, with a gazillion other corporations doing the same thing.
- Let’s also not forget stories like this one, in which “Thomas K. Norment Jr., the majority leader of the Virginia Senate, has acknowledged a relationship with a lobbyist whose firm regularly pushed for legislation that Norment voted for and, in two cases, sponsored directly.”
- And then there are stories like this one, in which we learn the extent to which (former) “Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore…blatantly…protect[ed] the logging industry against an impartial study, ‘unnecessary’ regulations and any attempt to bring the largest unregulated extractive industry in the state into the 21st century.”
I could go on all day with this; the point is that Virginia remains an “everything goes” state, with essentially zero serious ethics laws, very little transparency (see Virginian-Pilot editorial: A lost opportunity to fix Virginia’s FOIA for just one of many examples), and almost no accountability to the citizens of the state. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, no matter what you should care about having a government in which corporations don’t essentially control state regulatory agencies and officials as little more than puppets, trade campaign contributions for legislation and (lack of) regulatory actions favorable to their companies and industries, etc, etc. Who in their right mind would want that, other than the corporations, politicians and wealthy interests who benefit?
The bottom line is that what the McDonnells did was a perfect example of “legalized corruption” – taking Rolexes, wedding gowns, rides in Ferraris and tens of thousands of dollars worth of additional gifts from a slimy, on-the-make “businessman” who most certainly wanted something from the governor, even if he never exactly got it.
The questions are, now that the McDonnells have escaped jail time for what they did: a) what message does this slimy saga send to others in positions of power here in Virginia and across the country?; b) what does the Virginia legislature plan to do in order to address the gaping, glaring holes in Virginia’s campaign finance and ethics laws?; c) given that the very politicians (people like Tommy “In Bed with Lobbyists” Norment, Bill “ALEC” Howell and Dick “We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Ethics Laws!” Saslaw) responsible for writing ethics laws are “legally corrupt” themselves, is there any hope whatsoever that we’ll ever see improvement in these areas? (hint: no!); d) is it now “time to move on,” as Sen. Chap Petersen bizarrely asserts? (hint: no!).