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Money and the influence it has


“People should know money does not influence our business,” Staunton Republican State Del. Chris Saxman said yesterday, talking up his proposed bill that would ban state lawmakers and statewide officials from attending fundraising events sponsored by a political party, lobbyist or campaign contributors during the annual Virginia General Assembly session.

And what makes that bill relevant? Could it be the matter of the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner that Virginia Democrats hold as an annual fundraiser every winter and perhaps the added attraction of the Virginia inaugural ball being held next week in Arlington?

Sure, the legislation that Saxman has authored and was passed out of the House Privileges and Elections Committee by a party-line 12-8 vote wouldn’t take effect until July 1, meaning it would have no impact on J-J or the inaugural ball this year.

I don’t think any of us think that this effort is about anything other than partisan jockeying – given that there are already safeguards in place in existing Virginia law barring lawmakers and state officials from actively raising money during the session, and so what’s the big problem, right?

But let’s take Saxman at face value. “People should know that money does not influence our business.” OK, let’s bite. What role does money maybe play for Chris? Looking at his top donors dating back to his first campaign for the House of Delegates in 2001, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, we see the Virginia Auto Dealers Association, the Virginia Association of Realtors, the Virginia Bankers Association, Dominion, the Virginia Cable Telecom Association, Planters Bank, the Virginia Credit Union League, the Association of Electric Cooperatives and concerns related to the water business that, in fairness, is also Saxman’s day job.

The tricky thing to try to do in any case like this is to see if there is any linkage to money and influence over legislation. My admittedly unscientific method here is to just simply look at the bills that Saxman is carrying in the 2009 session. HB 1633 has to do with royalties to the state related to offshore drilling. I can’t see any ties to any of his big donors there. Then there is HB 1634 on campaign finance and HB 1635 on reports of legislators related to special gifts. Both seem to be attempts at enforcing good government, on their face.

HB 1636 would authorize the State Corporation Commission to make changes to an incumbent local exchange carrier’s certificated service territory at the request of those incumbent local exchange carriers that are directly involved in a proposed change in the certificated service territory. Just on the surface, it would seem that the Virginia Cable Telecom Association might have some interest there. Just as it might seem that the Virginia Bankers Association and the Virginia Credit Union League might have some interest in HB 1964, which would authorize banks, savings institutions, bank holding companies, savings and loan holding companies and multiple or diversified savings and loan holding companies organized as a stock corporation to reclassify or convert a portion of the shares of its stock from one class or series into another class or series for the purpose of ceasing to be, or avoiding the status of, an institution that is required to file periodic reports under provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, if authorized by its articles of incorporation.

And come to think of it, I wonder what Dominion and the Association of Electric Cooperatives think of HB 2081, which would declare that it would be unlawful to sell and distribute natural gas or propane, propane-air mixture, or other manufactured gas to the public via underground lines, except pursuant to a certificate of public convenience and necessity issued by the State Corporation Commission.

“People should know money does not influence our business.” I totally agree. So whaddya say we go all the way and do something about the PAC and corporate dollars that might make otherwise perfectly sensical bills like I’m sure we’re seeing Del. Saxman pushing that I referenced above?


– Story by Chris Graham



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