Virginia, every year is election year.
Our system of “off year” or odd year elections for statewide and
coupled with even year elections for President, members of Congress and
government officials, means that every year someone is running for
every year we go to the polls to vote, sometimes twice if our local
elections are still held in the spring.
And, because Virginia is a state where campaigns at every level are
financed with private contributions, every year we receive multiple
for funds in direct mail pleas, phone calls from candidates,
pricey events, and, increasingly, email solicitations.
drumbeat for funds gets louder as the “price” of campaigns escalates,
election to local offices in nonpartisan elections. For example,
the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP, www.vpap.org) found
that, in 2001,
for Attorney General spent more than $5,000,000; Lieutenant Governor
more than $6,000,000; and candidates for Governor more than
also reported that challengers for legislative races who received 40%
vote in 1999 spent an average of almost $250,000 to lose a senate race
almost $170,000 to lose a house race. Winners usually spent more. The
Pilot reported recently that candidates for the Virginia Beach City
spent as much as $80,000 to win election in spring 2004.
Richmond’s 2004 city council races and the
campaign for citywide mayor, to be held this fall, are likely to be
contested and represent the most expensive local campaigns in the
Part of the
reason for the escalating price of elections is the fact that Virginia,
most states, allows corporations to contribute directly to political
and sets no limits on individual or corporate contributions or on
expenditures. The present system relies
on disclosure of the amount and source of contributions to protect the
integrity of the process and the interests of the citizens.
As VPAP says, “[i]n rejecting limits, the
General Assembly has adopted a system where candidates police
disclosing the source of their donations. The theory is that by making
information available to the public, candidates will avoid becoming too
upon one donor or one industry.”
only as good as the reality of disclosure, however, and Virginians
limited access to information on campaign financing, particularly at
level. VPAP makes an increasing amount of information available online
campaign donors and expenditures for legislative and statewide
statewide candidates are required by state law to file their campaign
reports electronically with the State Board of Elections.
Nonetheless, people interested in the
financing of local elections are still required to visit the local
office to review campaign finance reports for local candidates or to
local news outlets to inform them about campaign donors, contributions
What do we
know about those currently financing campaigns? A report by
Public Campaign titled “The Color of Money” reports
that individual Virginians contributed more than $34,000,000 to federal
campaigns in 2002 in amounts of $200 or more.
63% of these contributions came from households with incomes over
$100,000 and 93.8% came from individuals living or working in zip codes
the population is predominantly white and non-Hispanic. This is
true although less than 20% of
Virginia households have incomes higher than $100,000 and almost 30% of
state’s population is African American, Asian Pacific American,
other minority. See,
It is unlikely that the picture of contributors to state and local
would look much different.
that, since 1998, the following industry groups have each contributed
$3,000,000 to statewide candidates for Virginia’s 2001 and 2005
estate/construction, $9,926,000; technology communication, $6,420,000;
finance/insurance, $6,331,000; business/retail services, $6,319,000;
and law firms, $5,381,000; health care, $3,477,000 and energy/natural
campaigns argue that they are investing in “good government” or are
looking for “access,” not trying to dictate results. Reasonable
people may wonder, however, whether millions in
individual and corporate contributions have had an impact on
areas such as: 1) tax policy (including, for example, repeal of the
preference for sales tax increases over income tax increases, and
taxes on internet sales); 2) limits on growth or development; 3)
of the banking, telecommunications and energy industries; and 4) issues
to tort reform and insurance costs.
constitutional protection of free speech (which the courts have held to
campaign contributions), one of the only ways out of the current system
system of publicly financed campaigns.
So-called, Clean Campaign Act laws are now in place in Arizona, Maine,
Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Vermont. One
advocate for these laws is Public
Campaign, a national, non-profit, non-partisan organization.
Public Campaign describes clean money
campaign reform as offering “full public financing for candidates who
spending limits and reject private contributions.”
financing is not the only way Virginia’s privately funded campaign
system can be improved, but it is the only vehicle by which it could be
replaced. If you are interested in
seeing a change in the present system of financing campaigns in
are three things that you need to do:
involved with organizations like the League of Women Voters, Common
Public Campaign that support campaign finance reform. Find out
more about these organizations and proposed reforms at
candidates (financially and with your vote) who support clean elections
other campaign finance reforms. This is
obviously a bit of a paradox. Unless
you participate in the current system, you’ll have no voice in changing
it. Women in Virginia currently
register and vote less often than women in more than 30 other states,
contribute to Virginia campaigns less frequently and at lower dollar
than similarly situated men. Women, particularly baby boom women, can
more. Regardless of age, women in
America disproportionately decide where a family's funds will be spent.
According to Martha Barletta, author of Marketing to Women: How to
Understand, Reach and Increase Your Share of the World's Largest Market
(Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2003), women control or influence 80% of
purchases of both consumer and business goods and services. They have
joint ownership of 87% of homes and buy 61% of major home-improvement
They account for 66% of all home-computer purchases and 80% of all
services. They carry 76 million credit cards, 8 million more than men.
start 70% of all new businesses. "In a nutshell," says Barletta,
"women are the ones spending the money, and boomer women have more
to spend." We need to spend some
of our money helping “our” candidates get elected.
HB 844, http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?ses=041&typ=bil&val=hb844,
and, if you agree that Virginia needs a clean election law, tell the
the House Privileges and Elections Committee and your legislators that
support passage of the bill. Introduced by Richmond Delegate Viola
the 2004 General Assembly Session, HB 844 would bring public financing
campaigns to Virginia by creating the Virginia Clean Election Act and
Fund. This bill, based on the Maine
Clean Elections Act, has been carried over for consideration by the
Privileges and Elections Committee until the 2005 Session. The
Committee must act on the bill by
December 2004. You can find out who the
committee members are and how to contact them at http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?041+com+H18.
You can find out who your legislators are at http://conview.state.va.us/whosmy/constinput.asp.
getting involved, can you hope to make a difference.