RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — On Wednesday, a Republican-led Virginia House panel voted against legislation that would ban lawmakers from using campaign funds for personal expenses like a vacation, mortgage or country club membership .
Virginia’s elected officials are outliers in the nation for their ability to spend their campaign money on just about anything. Despite bipartisan insistence that lawmakers want to compromise on a reform, similar bills that add caps on how campaign funds can be spent have been repeatedly voted down in recent years, including last year in the same subcommittee. .
The jury rejected the bills banning the personal use of a Democratic and Republican delegate. Similar legislation is still alive in the Senate, but Wednesday’s vote signals that he is likely to meet a similar fate should he pass the House.
Lawmakers are barred from converting campaign funds into personal use until they close their accounts. An earlier Associated Press review of the state’s campaign finance system in 2016 found that some lawmakers frequently used campaign accounts to pay for expensive meals and hotels, as well as personal expenses.
Opponents of the change argue that Virginia’s transparency-based campaign financial reporting system discourages abuse.
“You can see everything going in and everything going out. It’s all transparent,” Republican Del said. Rob Bloxom.
The Democrat Del. Marcus Simon, a sponsor of one of the bills and a longtime supporter of the reform, responded that the degree of clarity an entry in the campaign finance disclosure system actually provides depends on the candidate.
“For example, you could put $50, Amazon, right? Because you put $50 on your credit card, and it was paid to Amazon. … And that meets our reporting requirements in Virginia,” Simon said.
The Republican Del. Wren Williams filed the initial motion to defeat Simon and GOP Del bills. Mike Cherry. They were rejected together in a 5-3 party vote.
“I would suggest that donors don’t give to people they don’t trust. And I would also suggest that you don’t vote for them,” Williams said.
Simon said in an interview after the hearing that he was “curious” that the House subcommittee hadn’t taken action on the bill until it was clear whether the Senate version was moving forward. In years past, he’s noted that personal-use bans passed the House unanimously only to die in the Senate.
“It’s hard to get people to regulate and create new crimes that they could potentially be affected by,” she said.
In a separate legislative action Wednesday, the Senate voted against a measure that would have prohibited campaign fundraising on any day when the General Assembly meets during a special session. Fundraising is already prohibited during regular sessions.
The bill’s sponsor, GOP Senator David Suetterlein, had touted the bill as a good governance measure, arguing lawmakers shouldn’t accept checks at the same time they cast votes.
The Senate sent him back to a committee on Wednesday, effectively killing him.