For nearly three months, the tawdry spectacle of Governor Bob McDonnell’s eroding political credibility has been overshadowing the real work of governance in Richmond and diverting attention from the upcoming November election, which certain to have national ramifications. Many of my fellow Democrats have been outspoken in their criticism of the Governor’s actions and/or failures to act; of the pathetically weak financial “reporting requirements” we legislators impose on ourselves and on other Virginia officeholders; and on the non-existent regulatory framework surrounding the collection and use of political contributions.
As for the current status of “His Excellency” the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, I strongly believe that his resignation is long overdue. Frankly, the Governor dishonors the office by attempting simply to apologize for the misdeeds, make perfunctory amends for the dubious financial dealings and then just to change the subject. The Governor has already acknowledged the serious embarrassment that he and his family have caused the Commonwealth. His insistence that he has complied with the law – whether true or not remains to be seen – simply re-enforces the general perception that politicians have no moral compass and/or that the applicable laws are a joke.
The Governor is at the end of his term, with little realistic hope of further accomplishments. Though there have been calls for a special session to address financial disclosure legislation, the Governor’s participation in this dialogue would not be helpful. (More on this point below) A courageous man would retreat from the limelight and spare the citizens of Virginia further humiliation in order to focus on his defense vis a vis the FBI investigation and on whatever is next in his career. According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, through the end of July, the Commonwealth has been billed $53,000 by private counsel to the Governor for his defense in the Williams case. Surely, all concerned would be better off without this matter hanging over the Governor’s head.
As for the issue of a special session to address financial disclosure reform, I believe this would be a mistake. First of all the issues are too numerous and the philosophical distance among competing interests is too wide for a special session to be worth the trouble and expense. (Special sessions do have an incremental cost to the taxpayer). What I fear is that such a session would provide extensive opportunities for public grandstanding by individuals – inside and outside of the General Assembly – interested in the spotlight mostly for the impact on the election, rather than a reasoned consideration of true reform.
Of course, I think financial disclosure reform should be a key issue in the fall. But, it should be addressed by candidates in their campaigns. I’m sure most candidates would support the application of reporting requirements to the immediate family of office holders. But, there are many more controversial questions. Currently, there is virtually no constraint on the use of funds collected by campaigns. For example, campaign funds can be spent on private school tuition, as long as it is reported! Further, even if a candidate fails to report expenditures correctly, the law does not provide for meaningful sanctions. Does this make sense? Sadly, it does to many current members of the General Assembly. We progressives have our work cut out for us next year.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]