RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Republican-led Virginia House panel rejected a bill that would ban state lawmakers from using campaign cash on personal expenses that unanimously passed the state Senate.
The subcommittee’s 5-3 party-line vote Wednesday to lay state Sen. Jennifer Boysko’s bill on the table — meaning it could be reconsidered but that path remains unlikely — was the same as it was two weeks ago when the panel defeated two similar bills that had bipartisan support.
Sen. Boysko (D-Fairfax) urged the House subcommittee to advance the measure, pitching it as a “simple,” bipartisan move lawmakers could make to restore people’s confidence in elected representatives, which she said was “at a low.”
“This is a simple thing we can do, working collaboratively together, to say you know what we’re gonna put a few, we’re going to put some restrictions on how we spend our campaign money and not make people think that we are taking advantage of the system,” Boysko told the panel.
But one Democrat on the subcommittee had already conceded defeat, calling out legislators for not passing the legislation before the panel even voted Wednesday morning.
“It astounds me that we can’t pass legislation like this. I know it’s going to go down but I just wanted to say that,” Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax) said. “It’s just one of those things that’s stunning to me and I hope y’all have a miracle here and change and pass this bill that’s been well thought out.”
Sickles’ remarks prompted a pointed question from Del. Wren Williams (R-Patrick) to the subcommittee’s counsel: “Have there been any changes to personal campaign finance prohibitions or use of personal campaign funds within the last five years when the Democratic Party had all three houses, branches of government available to them to change whatever rules they liked?”
The subcommittee’s legal counsel responded that there haven’t been any such changes.
Virginia allows lawmakers and candidates to spend campaign donations on expenses such as dinners, hotels and other personal uses. An Associated Press review from 2016 found that legislators have used the funds on country club memberships, gas and phone bills.
The commonwealth’s lax campaign finance laws — including no contribution limits for political action committees, corporations or individuals donating to candidates — have led some lawmakers to pursue several failed efforts to rein in the rules.