“Everybody else has done the same thing,” Rust said, provoking laughter as he hastened to add that, in his bid for reelection, he nonetheless supports reining in political gifts in Virginia. Nearby, state Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax) — who last year was treated by Dominion to two dinners costing more than $100 — nodded in agreement about the need for reform.
“I’m offended by what’s happening in Richmond today,” Plum said earlier.
In a state that has long considered itself a place of clean government, the shadow of a federal investigation into gifts received by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his family is hanging over dozens of House of Delegate races that are normally about traffic, schools and other daily concerns.
As the campaignsfor the Nov. 5 elections rev up, both major parties are seeking to leverage the ethics issue for political gain, or at least keep it from darkening their chances for victory.
Federal authorities are investigating the gifts received by McDonnell and his family from a prominent Richmond area businessman. Among them: payment of a $15,000 catering bill for the wedding of one of the governor’s daughters, a $15,000 shopping trip in New York for first lady Maureen McDonnell, and a Rolex watch and access to a Ferrari for the governor.
“The Republicans know that it’s possible for Democrats to pick up some seats, and what they’re trying to do is prevent a wave that would take out 10 or 12 of them,” said Bob Holsworth, a longtime analyst of Virginia politics and a managing principal of the Decide Smart consulting group. Democrats, he said, aim to fuel a voter revolt in hopes of weakening Republican control of the House of Delegates, where the party holds 67 of the 100 seats.
“Whether it impacts voters, or if voters are so fatalistic about politicians that they see political ethics as an oxymoron, is another question,” Holsworth said.
In Northern Virginia, home to most of this year’s closely contested races, some candidates have made ethics reform a central plank in their campaigns.
Del. K. Robert Krupicka Jr. (D-Alexandria) has launched an online petition — vaethicsreform
nowcom — to urge state lawmakers to plug the “many holes” in Virginia’s laws exposed by the McDonnell investigation.
About 200 people have filled out the petition form since the site was launched Sept. 3, Krupicka said.
Although that number may seem small, candidates on all sides say they encounter a tide of voter distrust on the campaign trail.
“We’ve got to deal with this issue right away. We cannot deal with job security, education or anything else if there is this distrust in government,” said Del. David I. Ramadan (R-Loudoun).