Monday, January 05, 2009

Politics And Money In The Old Dominion 1.5

Loyal reader, did you see the story in the Metro section of the Washington Post on New Year’s Day? It says that, although money can’t buy you love, it can buy you endorsements if you want to run for state or local office in Virginia. 1

It seems there’s a guy named Jon Bowerbank who wants to be the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth. He recently was endorsed by Delegate Lionell Spruill, Sr., as the best Democrat to take on incumbent Tim Bolling. What the endorsement announcement did not indicate was that Bowerbank had just hired Spruill as a political consultant. Of course, Bowerbank was not “buying” Spruill’s endorsement. Spruill has made it clear that his services are very valuable because he has contacts all over the state.

There must be something to Spruill’s assertion because Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brian Moran has also hired Spruill as a consultant to the tune of $7,500 per month. And, you guessed it, Spruill has endorsed Moran’s candidacy.

Getting back to Bowerbank. Four years ago he raised over $37,000 for the campaign of Leslie Byrne to be Lieutenant Governor. In his effort, Bowerbank contributed his own money and convinced his wife and stepson to also donate to Byrnes campaign. Also, by some coincidence, nearly a dozen of Bowerbank’s employees also contributed to Byrne’s campaign. This year, Byrne returned the favor by endorsing Bowerbank for the office she didn’t win. Of course there was no quid pro quo—Virginia is not Illinois. Byrne did acknowledge, however, that "When someone shows an interest in you, they show a loyalty to you, there is an inclination to return that."

Bowerbank also donated funds to Senator J. Chapman Peterson to help pay off part of his campaign debt from 2007. You’ll be pleased to know, loyal reader, that Peterson has endorsed Bowerbank’s candidacy. Was it purely a coincidence? No way! According to Peterson, "Was that a factor in my trying to help him? Of course it was. Obviously, when you make a contribution, it helps you get your foot in the door."

Don’t think for a moment that this is just a Democratic practice. Over the years, Republican Paul Jost has distributed more than $1 million to candidates around the Commonwealth. When he decided to run for a vacant House of Representatives seat last year, he was endorsed by the same people he contributed to. Was there anything wrong with this? Not according to Jost. "It is not a quid pro quo. I never gave money to someone and said, 'Hey, I will give you money if you endorse me.' But certainly life is about doing favors for people and them doing favors for you."

And then there are the parallel attempts of Brian Moran and Terry McAuliffe to spend their way to the Democratic nomination. Since 2006, Moran has donated nearly $300,000 to state and local candidates in the Commonwealth. Although McAuliffe, as the new candidate on the block, has not yet filed his first campaign finance statement, he has been spreading cash all over Virginia to help his candidacy grow. (The Post article said nothing of spending by the third Democratic candidate, Creigh Deeds, to win the nomination. However, Deeds most recent finance statements indicate that political donations only constitute about 1% of the money his campaign has spent).

So, loyal reader, what are we to make of this mix of money and politics in our beloved Commonwealth. Perhaps Republican Delegate David Albo of Fairfax put it best. He said he will never support a candidate unless that candidate has contributed to his own campaigns. As Albo put it, "You have to develop relationships, and contributions are the easiest way to do it."

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