Making a Living in Governor's Race

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 17, 2009

RICHMOND -- Of the four lawyers running for governor this year, two are being paid by Virginia law firms as they campaign full time and conduct little, if any, legal work.

Who are Republican Robert F. McDonnell and Democrat R. Creigh Deeds representing, and just how much are they being paid? They won't say.

"I have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to run for governor,'' Deeds said. "I'm doing what I have to do. I'm doing enough work to pay my bills. There's no magic to it. There's no big secret."

This type of employment arrangement violates no laws and has for many years been a commonly accepted practice in Virginia political circles. But some ethics experts say the private work might create a conflict of interest for either man if he is elected governor in November.

Similar concerns confronted Deeds two years ago when he accepted a job at a Richmond-based firm that had a lobbying presence, even as he served in the state Senate. His critics said he was violating a state ethics rule that advises any lawmaker to "be careful to avoid using his public position for improper special advantage for clients." He left the firm.

McDonnell and Deeds are now employed at medium-size firms that do no lobbying, and both said they are trying to balance the need to support their families with running for governor full time. If candidates can't bring home a paycheck while campaigning, they said, the only people who would run for office would be those who do not understand the financial struggles of their constituents.

"You'd only get independently wealthy people running for governor," McDonnell said. "That would probably not be a good system."

McDonnell, Deeds and their law firms would not disclose their salaries or the names of their clients. Virginia law requires only that candidates identify companies that pay them more than $10,000 a year. That secrecy does not sit well with some.

"Voters have the right to know how candidates that seek to be governor are making a living," said Massie Ritsch at the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington nonpartisan group that studies the influence of money on elections. "The more information, the better for people trying to earn the public's trust and lead them as governor."

The other candidates for governor are not collecting paychecks.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a businessman who graduated from law school and pursued a career in business and real estate, has a net worth of at least $5.6 million, according to state public records. But he is probably worth considerably more because state law does not require candidates to report the exact value of investments that exceed $250,000.

McAuliffe, 52, lists 21 investments of at least $250,000, six investments whose values range from $50,001 to $250,000 and six whose values range from $10,001 to $50,000.

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