Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Politics And Money In The Old Dominion, Revisited

“I’m constantly in the business of raising funds. It takes funds to be in elected office. We’re going to be raising funds all the time.”
Dwight C. Jones, Mayor, City of Richmond

According to today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, the planned fund-raiser for Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones by the lobbying firm Capital Results, originally scheduled for last night, was postponed. The reason—bad timing. You see, Capital Results has been lobbying with the city on behalf of the Carrytown Place development. On Monday, Mayor Jones announced that he supported the development. Since the City Council will not be voting on the proposed development until March 28, Capital Results as well as Jones decided it would be best to postpone the fund-raiser.

Not that you should think, dear reader, that Capital Results expects that it’s fund-raiser would in any way effect either the mayor’s support for the project or the eventual decision by the City Council. As Mayor Jones made clear in the TD article, his political activities are unconnected to any positions he takes on behalf of the City of Richmond. This maven knows Dwight Jones and if he tells me that his support for the Carrytown Place project is unrelated to any funds raised for him by Capital Results I certainly believe him. Yet, Mr. Jones recognized that postponing the fund-raiser would “avoid any appearance of impropriety.”

According to the TD article, Capital Results is not the only entity trying to raise funds for the mayor. Last week the law firm Williams Mullen (“Where every client is a partner”) held a reception for Mr. Jones (recommended donation $500 per person). Coincidentally, one of Williams Mullen’s clients is the developer of Carrytown Place. Another of its clients is the group that is attempting to win the contract to design and build a new city jail.

Of course, the funds raised by Williams Mullen last week were not intended to influence either the Carrytown or city jail projects. Raising funds is just one of those services that Williams Mullen supplies to politicians in its altruistic desire to improve state and local government. As a spokesman for the firm pointed out, it held a fund-raiser for the mayor “to reinforce what he’s doing and wish him well for the future.”

So, dear reader, what are we to make of this? In a month the City Council will vote on the Carrytown Place project. Then, I suppose the time will be right for Capital Results to raise some funds for Mayor Jones. There will be no worry about the appearance of impropriety by then. Or will there?

This maven is in the seventh decade of his sojourn on this planet. I am not so naïve as to think that politicians don’t need money to keep their present jobs or to run for new ones. And, I am certainly happy that people like Dwight Jones can keep the need to constantly raise money from affecting his performance as mayor. But, is it reasonable for us to rely on a politician’s desire to avoid the appearance of impropriety?

In Virginia, it is unlawful for senators or delegates to accept political contributions while the General Assembly is in session. Why? To avoid the appearance of impropriety. Do we really expect that our state legislators can accept money from anybody for ten months of the year and that it will not affect how they vote during the two months that they are doing the people’s business?

Precious reader, I am not a believer in altruism. I do not believe that law firms raise funds for politicians because they want to wish them well in the future. And, I also do not believe that the appearance of impropriety is a matter of timing. If holding a fund-raiser for Mayor Jones would have suggested impropriety yesterday, it will suggest the same thing in a month or even six months. The fact is that lobbyists for clients who want certain results from government are providing funds for officials who directly or indirectly can bring about those results. How can they ever avoid at least the suspicion of impropriety?

What we have here in the Commonwealth is a system in which Mayor Jones’ statement, with which I started this piece, is unfortunately true for all elected officials. If you have any idea that you may want to run for reelection, you need to start raising funds as soon as you are elected. All of our elected officials are “constantly in the business of raising funds.” Is this any way to run a city, a state, a country? Trusted reader, you tell me.

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