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Democrats' Inaugural Ball Waltzes Past Fundraiser Law

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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009

RICHMOND

The 2009 election cycle is shaping up as the Year of the Dollar Sign.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and Virginia Democrats have decided they can have a fundraiser during the legislative session. If it proceeds, it could further loosen the state's campaign finance laws.

And if there were ever a year in which Virginians should care about campaign finance, it's 2009.

With contested races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general and a big push by Democrats to reclaim the majority in the House of Delegates, there probably will be unprecedented spending on campaigns this year.

In the Democratic primary for governor, Terry McAuliffe could drive much of the spending, given his vast national Rolodex. In the general election, national money from both parties will probably pour into the state, especially given that Kaine is expected to become head of the Democratic National Committee.

It's especially easy to throw cash around in Virginia races because the state has no limits on how much an individual, corporation or union can give to a state candidate or political committee, creating what many refer to as the "Wild West" of campaign finance. It is one of only five states with no limits.

That allows Kaine to collect one-tenth of his campaign funds from one wealthy individual. By comparison, a state politician in neighboring Maryland can accept no more than $4,000 over four years from any donor. And no individual can give more than a combined $10,000 in a four-year cycle to candidates running for Maryland office.

Virginia's system is guided by two laws designed to bring at least a little order to the mayhem: Political committees must report all donations of $10,000 or more within three business days, and state officeholders cannot raise money during the legislative session.

Virginia Democrats brought to light one major flaw in the state's campaign finance laws in the fall.

On Sept. 4, the Laborers' Political League Education Fund gave the state party $200,000. Even though it was one of largest contributions the state party had received in at least a decade, officials failed to abide by the three-day reporting deadline.


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