news general assembly defeats 20 of 24 campaign finance reform bills in 2022 session
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General Assembly defeats 20 of 24 campaign finance reform bills in 2022 session

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The Virginia General Assembly defeated bills to restrict the personal use of campaign funds, place limits on campaign contributions, improve disclosure from dark money groups, and ban contributions from public utilities.

This among the 20 bills from 24 introduced in the 2022 General Assembly session.

Awaiting a signature from Gov. Glenn Youngkin are two bills pertaining to disclosure, an oversight bill which strengthens the Department of Elections ability to monitor and enforce campaign finance regulations and a resolution extending a study of campaign finance reform in Virginia.

Polling by the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University ahead of the session showed a majority of Virginians support implementing campaign finance reform. An overwhelming 78 percent of Virginians support reducing money from big campaign donors, and 88 percent of Virginians support public disclosure of contributions, the poll revealed.

Virginia held its most expensive election in history last year, with a record amount of money — $7 million — contributed by undisclosed donors.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle introduced bills to address the concerns of Virginians. Bills sponsored by Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate, including Republican Del. Lee Ware and Republican Sen. Richard Stuart, would have prohibited campaigns from accepting contributions from public utilities.

Because members of the General Assembly shape the laws public utilities operate under, contributions from these entities can lead to what many perceive as a conflict of interest. The bill failed to pass out of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, where 13 of the 24 introduced campaign finance reform bills were killed.

Democratic Sen. John Bell sponsored a bill, along with Dels. Marcus Simon (D) and Mike Cherry (R), to prevent candidates for state office from using campaign contributions for personal use. A similar bill unanimously passed the House last year before being defeated in the Senate. This year, the bill passed through the Senate while encountering stiff resistance in the House Privileges and Elections Committee along party lines, leaving Virginia as one of a handful of states with no law prohibiting the personal use of campaign funds.

Bills capping contributions, implemented in 45 other states, continue to be elusive. Four bipartisan bills that would cap contributions from individuals were introduced in this General Assembly, two in the House of Delegates and two in the Senate. The two bills in the Senate would have set limits at $20,000-$25,000 per candidate in each election cycle. The caps of these bills were nearly seven times higher than the federal limits of $2,900 per individual to federal candidates. Introduced by Democratic Sens. Chap Petersen and Joe Morrissey, the bills died immediately with similar bills in the House killed during their first hearing.

Of the four campaign finance reform bills that did pass, two relate to campaign finance disclosure. HB 125, sponsored by Republican Del. Glenn Davis, establishes a fine of up to $25,000 for sponsors violating campaign advertisement disclosure laws. HB 86, sponsored by Republican Del. Tim Anderson, directs the Department of Elections to create a searchable online database containing information about campaign finance reports, is in still in play because of delays in finalizing the state budget.

Unfortunately, eight other disclosure bills, some of which would have strengthened reporting by dark money groups, died in committee.

A bill requiring campaigns to keep certain records that may be subject to review by the Department of Elections passed nearly unanimously. However, it has a delayed implementation date of 2024, allowing legislators to get through the next election cycle without any oversight.  Finally, a resolution extending a study of campaign finance reform in Virginia by a joint subcommittee passed without any dissent.

Interested in learning more about which bills passed and which didn’t? You can review all the bills here or attend VAOurWay’s “Roundtable on the Status of Virginia Good Governance Legislation: A Post Mortem” which will be held on Wednesday, March 23rd at 7 p.m. Register here.

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