Chris Graham: McAuliffe, the inaugural and lobbying dollars

Virginia doesn’t put public money into the inaugural events for incoming governors, which is no question the way to go about that kind of thing. But with no public money paying for them, the money has to come from somewhere, and guess who is more than glad to step in and foot the bill?

state-capitol2Yep, you guessed it: those who want to buy access to the governor, you know, just for future reference.

Bob McDonnell’s January 2010 inaugural cost just short of $1.9 million. Terry McAuliffe has a ways to go to raise that kind of cash for his 2014 inaugural, with receipts to date as of this writing at $325,000.

There’s still plenty of time for T-Mac to raise the additional boatloads of money that he’ll need to ring in his single term as governor. (And it’s not as if McAuliffe has ever had any trouble raising money for causes in the past, good, bad and indifferent though they may be.)

The issue for good governance isn’t the cost or the effort to raise the money for an inaugural, it’s why anybody would give money for an inaugural.

Why, for example, are Dominion, Verizon and West Legend Corp. in for $50,000 apiece for the McAuliffe inaugural? Nothing against any of them, but it’s doubtful that they’re chipping in so that they can put up a tent and a booth and hand out pamphlets to people walking by on their way to the State Capitol. They’re going to expect something for their investment. (They’d be fools not to.)

I’m not suggesting that what they’re expecting is anything illegal or even unethical. Access alone is enough to tip the scales when it comes to public policy.

This isn’t to besmirch McAuliffe, as easy as that might be to do. Virginia’s Wild West-inspired campaign finance system is what it is. Everybody plays the money game to the hilt.

I bring this up to make you think a little outside the box on this. Your first inclination might be to say that it’s a good thing that we don’t use public money to fund inaugurals. What I’m suggesting is that there’s a flip side to this where it might be that we’d actually be better off paying for them with tax dollars, if only because that would eliminate one of the many ways that lobbying dollars put undue influence on public policy.

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