It’s long past time to get big money out of our politics in Virginia.
During her 2020 Presidential campaign, Senator Elizabeth Warren explained why we need robust campaign finance reform: “[B]efore the legislative process even starts — lobbyists and billionaires try to buy off politicians during elections. Candidates and elected officials often spend hours and hours a day doing call time with big donors, instead of learning about policy and working for their constituents.”
Our political process continues to be eroded by the corrosive role of big money and the impact of pay-to-play practices on our public policies.
While “much of this corruption of our representative democracy is perfectly legal,” some states have done a much better job than others in curbing the influence of big money.
Sadly, Virginia has done a much worse job.
Virginia has failed to strengthen its weak campaign finance system
Virginia’s track record on campaign finance reform is poor. The 2021 Virginia legislative session was no exception. A very modest reform bill died near the end of that session:
Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, who carried the bill — which passed the House of Delegates 100-0 — said he was “obviously disappointed [the Senate] couldn’t find a way to live under the same rules as the federal government and at least 47 other states.” He had told the Associated Press, when it looked like a breakthrough was possible, that it was his eighth year sponsoring the bill.
Virginia has the dubious distinction of being one of only a tiny handful of states with no campaign contribution limits.
Virginia ranks worse than all but five other states on the Coalition for Integrity’s S.W.A.M.P. index. Virginia needs to lower substantially the water level in this swamp.
2021 Governor’s race exposes the weaknesses in Virginia’s campaign finance laws
The current election for Virginia Governor already has been negatively distorted by the weaknesses in Virginia’s campaign finance laws. An extremely wealthy Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, is fulfilling his promise to spend whatever he thinks it takes to win, forcing his Democratic opponent, former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, to spend almost all of his campaign so far raising lots of money and pleading for more.
Predictably, the media’s campaign coverage has concentrated on their money race not their policy differences. This focus adds to the corrosive effect Elizabeth Warren described. Even if there’s a subsequent shift to greater coverage of policy differences, each of these candidates will be unduly influenced by the big money already raised.
Will a new legislative study group prompt meaningful reform?
Rather than passing robust campaign finance reform in time to cover this year’s elections, our General Assembly instead created a bipartisan legislative study group on campaign finance reform.
This latest study group is tasked with: “examining the costs of campaigning in the Commonwealth, the effectiveness of the Commonwealth’s present disclosure laws and their enforcement, the constitutional options available to regulate campaign finances, and the desirability of specific revisions in the Commonwealth’s laws, including the implementation of contribution limits.”
There are legitimate concerns that this study committee, coming on the heels of numerous similar studies over the past 30 years, is just the latest way to kick the can down the road. However, Nancy Morgan, coordinator for the Virginia chapter of American Promise, a group working to support federal and state campaign finance reform, has confidence in both Marcus Simon and David Bulova, two of the 10 legislative members appointed to the committee.
Morgan explains that her group has been working with other states and national experts to identify best practices in campaign finance. “Some of our legislators recognize that Virginians want to strengthen our democracy by making legislators accountable to their voters and not be beholden to big-money special interests,” she said. “Trust is a critical ingredient between Government and the governed.”
Virginia is only one of a handful of states with no campaign contribution limits. This enables big money to flow freely into our campaigns, distorting our political system. Virginia needs to step up its game by enacting a package of robust campaign finance reform laws in the 2022 legislative session.
Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC, a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.
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The Arlington-Aachen High School exchange is returning this summer and currently accepting applicants.
The sister-city partnership started in 1993 by the Arlington Sister Cities Association, which seeks to promote Arlington’s international profile through a variety of exchanges in education, commerce, culture and the arts. The exchange, scheduled June 17th to July 4th, includes a two-week homestay in Aachen plus three days in Berlin. Knowledge of the German language is not required for the trip.
Former participants have this to say:
_”The Aachen exchange was an eye-opening experience where I was fully immersed in the life of a German student. I loved biking through the countryside to Belgium, having gelato and picnics in the town square, and hanging out with my German host student’s friends. My first time out of the country, the Aachen exchange taught me to keep an open mind, because you never know what could be a life changing experience.” – Kelly M._
Learn about the new assessment of Arlington’s urban tree canopy and the many ecological and social benefits trees provide. Staff from the Green Infrastructure Center (GIC) will share study results and compare canopy cover for different areas of Arlington.The webinar will include assessments of ecosystem services such as stormwater mitigation, air quality, carbon uptake, and urban heat islands. For background on Arlington trees see the “Tree Benefits: Growing Arlington’s Urban Forest” presentation at http://www.gicinc.org/PDFs/Presentation_TreeBenefits_Arlington.pdf.
Please register in advance to assure your place at the webinar, https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/29543206508863839.
About the Arlington County Civic Federation: The Arlington County Civic Federation (“ACCF”) is a not-for-profit corporation which provides a forum for civic groups to discuss, debate, inform, advocate and provide oversight on important community issues, on a non-partisan basis. Its members include over ninety civic groups representing a broad cross-section of the community. Communications, resolutions and feedback are regularly provided to the Arlington County Government.
The next meeting is on Tuesday, February 21,2023 at 7 pm. This meeting is open to the public and will be hybrid, in-person and virtually through Zoom. Part of the agenda will be a discussion and vote on a resolution “To Restore Public Confidence in Arlington County’s Governance”. For more information on ACCF and this meeting, go to https://www.civfed.org/.
Valentine gifts for someone special or for yourself are here at George Mason University from noon -4pm on February 14, 2023. Satisfy your sweet tooth with Kingsbury Chocolates, find a handmade bag from Karina Gaull, pick up treats from Village