newsstate inspector general clears virginia tourism over contract for youngkin commercial

State Inspector General clears Virginia Tourism over contract for Youngkin commercial

Chris Graham
glenn youngkin
(© Michael Robb Photography – Shutterstock)

The Office of the State Inspector General has cleared the Virginia Tourism Corporation of wrongdoing in its award of a $268,000 contract awarded to the political advertising agency behind Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 gubernatorial campaign to produce a commercial that features the governor.

The OSIG report found that Rita McClenny, the executive director of Virginia Tourism, bypassed standard agency guidelines to seek competitive bids to award the contract to Poolhouse Agency for the spot, titled “Governor’s Welcome Project,” which features Youngkin at Richmond Raceway, and runs on a loop at airports and welcome centers across the Commonwealth.

But the report, from State Inspector General Michael Westfall, found that because state law does not require McClenny to follow the agency guidelines, basically, no harm, no foul.

“The Authority is exempt from state procurement guidelines,” Westfall wrote in a letter Thursday to Commerce Secretary Caren Merrick.

“According to its own internal purchasing policies and procedures, the Welcome to Virginia video project qualified as a non-competitive award. Nevertheless, to exercise due diligence and ensure transparency in the procurement process, the Authority issued a request for bids.”

It might be helpful to note here that the State Inspector General serves at the pleasure of the governor.

Westfall was first appointed to the post by Democrat Ralph Northam in 2018.

House Minority Leader Don Scott and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, in an October letter to Inspector General Michael Westfall requesting the investigation, contended that the commercial spot amounted to a campaign ad for Youngkin, who has been building toward a bid for the 2024 Republican Party presidential nomination for the past several months.

Poolhouse created branded logos and images for Youngkin’s 2021 gubernatorial campaign, and has continued working for the governor through his PAC.

Poolhouse, which was founded in 2013, specializes in digital advertising for Republican political candidates, and had not performed marketing work for a state agency prior to the award for the Virginia Tourism project featuring Youngkin.

McClenny selected Poolhouse, which had begun work on the project, before members of the governor’s staff pushed her to seek additional bids for transparency purposes.

The project was then put out to bid on May 5, with tight deadlines that The Martin Agency, one of the two other advertising companies that had been approached to gauge interest in bidding for the contract, said were too tight.

The other company that was solicited, Henninger Media Services, did not respond.

Poolhouse, not surprisingly, given that it had already begun work on the project, responded on the day that Virginia Tourism had reached out to the companies with the opportunity to bid on the project.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris has won 17 Virginia Press Association awards for his work as an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist. Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, both published in 2019, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to my YouTube page, Want to reach Chris? Try [email protected].

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