RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A push to bring Virginia in line with almost every other state and ban the personal use of political campaign funds has little chance of success this year, despite high-profile bipartisan support for it.
A Senate panel dispatched one version of the legislation Tuesday, sending it on for further study and signaling that there aren’t likely enough votes to pass the measure into law.
“It’s something we ran on, I was disappointed to see that,” said Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat who won election in November.
The new governor, who has also called for an overhaul of campaign finance laws aimed at limiting corporate influence, said he’ll continue to press the issue in future years.
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Virginia has one of the least regulated campaign finance systems in the country, with lawmakers only barred from using campaign funds for personal use when closing accounts.
An Associated Press review of the state’s campaign finance system in 2016 found that some lawmakers use campaign accounts to pay for expensive meals and hotels, or personal expenses like car repairs and cellphone bills.
Several lawmakers, including some who rarely face serious opposition, raise virtually all of their money from businesses or special interests that lobby the General Assembly. There is no limit on much donors can give in Virginia.
Officials in both parties have called for changes. Northam’s opponent last year, Republican Ed Gillespie, called for an ethics overhaul, to include banning the personal use of campaign funds. Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox has also endorsed the idea.
House versions of the legislation are still alive and sponsors are hopeful it can at least get out of the lower chamber — something that’s not happened in past years.
The Senate version was sponsored by Republican Sen. Jill Vogel, who said it was a common sense measure that voters and donors expect.
“I think as an ethics matter that we owe it to the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Vogel said.
But a panel considering the measure voted against it with virtually no discussion. Republican Sen. John Cosgrove said he wanted the state’s ethics advisory council to study the issue and report back to the legislature.
Similar legislation in past years to ban the personal use of campaign funds has also been defeated with promises for further study.
Democratic Del. Marcus Simon, a longtime advocate for the measure, said the issue doesn’t need to be studied anymore and voters in both parties sent a message last year that “people want us to clean up our act.”