RICHMOND — Ed Gillespie, a former Washington lobbyist and Republican strategist running for governor of Virginia, vowed Thursday to ban the personal use of campaign funds and to slow the “revolving door” between government service and the lucrative world of lobbying.
Gillespie made those promises at a news conference on Richmond’s Capitol Square, where the GOP-controlled legislature has repeatedly killed bills intended to prevent candidates from using political cash for personal expenses.
Since a gifts scandal engulfed former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) in 2013, Virginia’s legislature has moved to tighten the state’s notoriously lax ethics and campaign-finance rules year after year. But loopholes remain. And the Republicans who control both chambers in Richmond have been flatly opposed to bans on personal use, arguing that restrictions would trip up even honest public servants.
Gillespie’s proposals were part of a broader ethics and government-transparency plan he unveiled in the company of the outgoing and incoming speakers of Virginia’s House of Delegates — a powerful signal that Gillespie’s personal-use ban would fare better than the one Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) endorsed to no avail this year. Among other things, it would require administration officials to wait at least two years before lobbying their prior office.
“This plan will take necessary steps to give Virginians a greater say in the decisions of their government, close campaign finance loopholes, and level the playing field,” Gillespie said. “It will ensure that the governor’s office is both accountable and transparent to the people it is meant to serve.”
Gillespie’s proposals were met with derision from Democrats and Republican rivals, who noted his own turns in Washington’s revolving door. Gillespie got his start in politics as a U.S. Senate parking lot attendant, but went on to become a White House counselor to President George W. Bush, the chairman of the Republican National Committee and a highly successful lobbyist.
From the Democratic Governors Association: “HAHAHAHAHA: Gillespie Claims Ability to Clean Up Lobbying in Virginia.” From a spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, one of two Democrats seeking to succeed the term-limited McAuliffe: “Ed Gillespie proposing ethics reform is like a gator going vegan.” From a spokesman for the other Democrat, former congressman Tom Perriello: “Ed Gillespie will carry the water of any corporation large enough to write him a fat check.”
From Corey A. Stewart, one of two rivals in the GOP’s June 13 primary: “This is laughable coming from Enron Ed, a 30-year Washington insider.” The other Republican contender, state Sen. Frank W. Wagner (Virginia Beach), said, “To hear this from a D.C. lobbyist who traded his influence and made millions of dollars . . . is absolutely ludicrous.”
Del. Marcus B. Simon (D-
Fairfax), who has proposed personal-use bans all four years he has been in the House, wondered why Gillespie thinks the legislature will have a change of heart.
“I don’t know what kind of buy-in he has from House Republicans, but I wish him luck,” Simon said.
Asked about that, Gillespie said he would work closely with the General Assembly to get the details right.
“I’m not going to impose this on somebody,” he said. “I couldn’t if I tried. We don’t want to set up traps. We don’t want to make it harder for good people to serve in public office.”
House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights), slated to become speaker after the retirement of Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) next year, said Republican leaders were wary of backing a ban under McAuliffe because of a lack of trust in the governor’s motives and attention to detail.
“What does that bill look like when Terry McAuliffe tries to craft certain amendments?” Cox said. “Are those ‘gotcha’ amendments?”
McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy called that “a preposterous thing to say.”
“The Governor’s pen bleeds the same color ink as a Republican Governor’s would,” Coy said in an email. “If Del. Cox and his caucus were serious about this they could have passed a bill closing this loophole. Gov. McAuliffe would have signed it. Instead they’ve fought tooth and nail to preserve their slush funds.”
Gillespie’s plan also calls for a ban on “bait-and-switch” campaign finance practices: spending funds raised for one office on a bid for a different office. Under current law, Stewart and Wagner legally transferred large sums they had raised for past state Senate and county supervisor races to their gubernatorial accounts.
He also proposed prohibiting fundraising during special legislative sessions. Fundraising is banned only during regular sessions. And he proposed several measures aimed at transparency, including live-streaming a handful of public cabinet meetings and all agency and board meetings.